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Thoughts of the Spiritual



"Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost."
"Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost."
"Let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead, and is
alive again; he was lost, and is found."—Luke 15: 6, 9, 23, 24.

THERE is no part of our New Testament which so magnificently, and yet so simply, sets forth the real Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so emphatically declares what is the Purpose of God in regard to the human race, as this fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke. It gives us the account of three parables spoken by the Master, in which He enlarges upon the great truth expressed by St. Paul in those words—"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1: I5), and "God is the Saviour of all men" (1 Tim. 4: 10). In these stories of the lost sheep, the lost piece of money, and the prodigal son, Jesus stripped Religion of all the mystification in which the teachers had enwrapped it, and in the homeliest manner tried to make His hearers understand wherein lay the "good news" He came to reveal to mankind, viz., that no one, howsoever lost, is outside the concern of Almighty Love; and that there can be no lost one who shall not ultimately be found and restored. That, we venture to say, is the plain and logical interpretation of these three parables; and if they be stripped of this significance, we are left no alternative but to regard them as a hyperbolism which expresses much more than the actual truth. In other words, these parables either illustrate and confirm that other utterance of the Saviour:—"I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me" (John 12: 32), or they constitute an exaggerated statement in regard to His work and power. If Christ's promise to "draw all men" unto Himself is to be fulfilled, and if St. Paul's statement that "God is the Saviour of all men" be true, then the meaning of our Lord's parables must be, that ultimately, when God's saving Purpose shall have been accomplished, no lost sheep will have been left unfound, no lost piece will remain unrecovered, and no prodigal will be unrestored.

This teaching of Jesus is in glorious agreement with the Gospel of Universalism; it is hopelessly in non-agreement with that past and present teaching which men have euphemistically called "Gospel."

The Church of Christ, in this present age, is slowly, but surely, rising to a better understanding of the Gospel as He proclaimed it. The time has passed forever for men and women to accept without question or thought that which may be presented to them as Divine truth, simply because it bears the stamp of ecclesiastical authority. The age of religious credulity is going, and the advance of knowledge is making it impossible for men to accept as matters of faith anything that does not afford scope for the exercise of their mind and moral instincts. The time has passed for mankind to account as final on the most tremendous of all subjects, the character of God and the destiny of our race—a few passages of Scriptures shockingly mistranslated, and consequently, grievously misunderstood. In an age when persons can read the Greek New Testament for themselves, and learning is not the monopoly of the Churchmen, they are not content to rear the edifice of their belief on the interpretations of old-world Fathers, however distinguished and revered they may have been. They have discovered, with feelings of relief and gratitude, that some of the doctrines which have been foisted into the Religion of Jesus, have no better foundation than a few texts in the Bible, detached from their context, and made by mistranslation to bolster theological preconceptions. Their eyes have been opened to the fact that the theology which does not teach the full Gospel of God, but only offers an attenuated Gospel, is only able to do that by treating hundreds of passages in the Bible as if they did not exist. Holy Scripture abounds in statements which support the Universalist idea; but the champions of Western so-called "Orthodoxy," with its doctrine of irretrievably lost souls and endless perdition, treat every one of those statements as if the word "all" were only "some."

Once upon a time—from the age of the Apostles to about A. D. 300—the Christian Church believed in a Jesus who would save all men; and there was no part of the Sacred Writings upon which the early Fathers loved to dwell more than upon this fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke. It voiced the real Gospel of God so magnificently, they thought. It harmonized so grandly with the teaching of prophet, poet and Apostle— "the restitution of all things."

Then came the reaction, when the Christian Church became theologically exclusive, proud and cruel; when all that was embracive in the Gospel of Christ was pared away, and men came to regard it as no more than an expedient whereby a few might be saved, and the majority lost. The shadow of Augustine fell upon the Western Church, and it has rested there ever since, obscuring the Love of God, and constituting Religion a dread and a horror to thousands of those who think.

God, the Father of Love, was morally metamorphosed into a merciless being whose purposes contemplate the torture of His wretched creatures forever and ever. The pitiful Jesus, who told His inimitable stories of finding a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son, was represented as the One who, in spite of all His kindliness and yearning, will never in this world or Another find untold myriads of lost ones.

According to the doctrine which even to-day is preached in thousands of the churches and chapels of Christendom, instead of there coming a time when there shall be a grand Hallelujah Chorus throughout the Spiritual Universe, because the saving Christ has triumphed, and the last lost creature of the All-Father has been found; there is to be a wail—awful and horrible, because hopeless and everlasting—from the ones whom Jesus has failed to redeem.

That terrible conception has disfigured the Christian Religion for sixteen centuries; darkening Divine truth, slandering God, detracting from the glory of Jesus, and driving hundreds of thousands of good men and women into the gloom and cheerlessness of unbelief.

Sects and denominations, the most bitter in their hostility to the Church of Rome, have clung the most tenaciously to this the worst of her errors. The English Reformation, which swept away some of the accretions piled up upon the Gospel of God during the centuries, left the most awful of those accretions untouched.

Romanist, Anglican and Dissenter have joined forces in supporting a teaching behind which, as a lurid cloud of unspeakable despair and horror, the Sun of the great Father's Love has set and disappeared.

From the "Gospel" according to men and their perverted imaginings, we betake ourselves to the Gospel of God. We get us back to the purer and brighter teaching of the early Eastern Church; to those visions of the post-Apostolic Fathers, who would have scouted as absurd the supposition that God could be ultimately baffled by evil, and had no conception of a Christ who should be unable to find and save the lost.

We get us back, too, to the Scriptures, casting aside all the mistranslation of them, and all the misinterpretation which has been the outcome of that mistranslation. We betake ourselves to the words of the Saviour, as we have, we believe, a faithful record of them in the four Gospels. We place those four Gospels in the foremost place among the writings of the New Testament.

The ones who penned them were, we believe, assisted by the Christ Himself from the Spiritual World, to hand down His utterances to the centuries. "He (the Holy Ghost)," said Jesus, "shall bring all things to your remembrance" whatsoever I have said unto you." We believe that in the case of St. Matthew and St. John their minds were so impressed by thought-waves from the Saviour's mind that they were able to remember faithfully the words that they themselves had heard Him speak. We believe in regard to the other two Evangelists, that those from whom they obtained the details for their Gospel-narratives were similarly assisted by Jesus. Thus it is in the four Gospels that we look for the truth concerning the Gospel of God. Valuable as the Epistles are, we do not rank them with the Gospels. The latter contain the statements of Jesus; the former do not. The Gospels give us Divine truth as it fell from the lips of the Truth-Revealer; the Epistles show us that truth colored in many instances by the mental characteristics of the men through whose mind it passed. St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans is a notable instance of this. It proclaims the Gospel; but it is the Gospel clothed with Rabbinical ideas.

If the Christian world had but confined herself to the utterances of Jesus, and made all other statements of Scripture bend to what He said, instead of trying to make His utterances bend to that which others wrote, the Gospel would have been better perceived than it has been.

With this thought, then, of the pre-eminent authority of the Master's teaching, we get us back to those parables of which we are speaking, and at once come face to face with a presentment of Gospel-truth which is sublime. There is no ring of failure about it. There is no suggestion of the Christ desiring to do more than He will accomplish. He cannot be defeated in his purpose of Love and rescue. He is stronger than the circumstances of evil. The sheep may stray away into separation from God; and be lost amid the entanglements of the wilderness; but He will presently find it. The piece of money may roll away from goodness, and lie out of sight in the defilement and the dust; but He with the lighted candle of His Love will discover it. The prodigal son may have sunk into all the degradation of beggary and wretchedness; but He will bring him to say—"I will arise, and go to my Father," and show him the way to that Father's waiting arms. What is the true Gospel? do we ask. It is to tell men that all which is, or shall be lost, shall be ultimately found. It is summarized in those three sayings of Jesus—"I have found my sheep which was lost," "I have found the piece which I had lost," "My son was lost and is found."

It may be asked—Why did our Lord, in defining the character of the true Gospel, make use of these three particular illustrations? May it not have been to teach us that souls may come into that condition described by the word—"lost," from different causes and different contributing circumstances?

The sheep became a lost thing from quite a different cause from that which caused the money to be lost. Again the son became a lost man from something essentially different from either that which affected the sheep, or that which affected the money.

And yet all three—the sheep, the coin and the man—were lost things.

Now, a great deal of the misconception which exists in regard to the scope of God's Gospel, has arisen in connection with this word "lost."

Theology has used the word as if it denotes "irretrievable ruin." "A lost soul" has consequently been regarded as a soul that never will be saved.

We contend that the word denotes nothing of the kind. "A lost soul" describes the condition of one in separation from God, and who must face all sorts of bitter experiences because of that separation. But it does not denote, either in regard to this life or any life Beyond, that that lost condition is an unalterable one. If the statements of Jesus be true, no lost one can everlastingly remain lost. Christ, in describing His mission to mankind, said—"The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost'' (Luke 19: 10). If the word "lost" means "everlastingly ruined,'' then even Jesus cannot save such beings. A person incapable of salvation cannot be saved. It is very curious how theology has made the significance of the word to vary according to the locality of a soul. A person in alienation from God while living in this world is described—and rightly so—as a "lost" one. But he, although lost, may be saved, we are told. A person in alienation from God in the Spiritual World is also described as "lost"; but he, according to some, cannot possibly be saved. But why? we ask. Why should one class of lost persons be capable of salvation, and another class not? If it be true that the purpose of Christ is "to seek and to save that which was lost," how can we, with any sense of consistency, exclude the great majority of lost ones from that purpose? And yet this has been done to the disparagement of the Gospel; and Christ's mission has been explained, not as a seeking and a saving of "the lost," but of only some, and that a comparatively few, of them.

We have to decide which statements we accept—the statements of Jesus, corroborated by Apostles and the early Fathers of the Church, or the statements of later teachers. If the former be right, assuredly the latter are wrong. Reconciliation between the two sets of statements is impossible. The Bible makes God "the Saviour of all men." "Orthodoxy" has declared He will save some only. Christ has asserted that He came to seek and to save the lost; while the "Gospel" of many is that millions never will be saved.

Well, we tack our faith to the Saviour, and what He said on this subject, in spite of all the dogmatics of the Schools. We believe Him, when in beautiful, simple story, He revealed the glorious truth that Divine Love must one day be all-conquering. We believe that God's omnipotence will vanquish all evil; that when this and other aeons, through which God is working out His Purpose, shall have run their course, and the judgments, disciplinings and prunings shall be past, the last lost human soul will find its home and happiness in the Bosom of the All-Father; and that He, the once uplifted Jesus will "see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied." That, alone, is the Gospel which to us harmonizes God's Love and His omnipotence; His Fatherhood and Saviourhood. That is the Gospel as taught in this fifteenth chapter of St. Luke.

We stated above that the three illustrations employed by our Lord describe three great classes of lost souls:—

(a) He spoke of lost ones who come into that condition on account of ignorance and uncontrolled instincts and feelings. You know the Master's story. A poor, foolish, and inexperienced sheep looks out upon a world of which it knows little or nothing. It appears so attractive and delightful. Within the sheep are natural instincts and impulses. There is a charm in the thought of unrestricted freedom; expectation and delight in the prospect of going where it has never been, and of doing what it has never done. Outside the sheltering fold, and away from the shepherd's presence lies the wilderness, full of dangers, full of loneliness and full of horrors. But it knows nothing of that. It is ignorant of the true character of outside environment. It will go into that outer world, because it has an instinct prompting it to do so; and it is ignorant and the instincts have not been put under control. You know the sequel. It wanders and wanders, and becomes a lost thing. It has strayed apart from all that constitutes its safety, its real good in life, and happiness.

There is the spiritual correspondence of this in the case of that great class of men and women, whom Christ would have called, and we may call, "lost souls." They are souls who are detached from God. They are in a spiritual wilderness where God is not. In the domain of mind and spirit, they are without Him.

Millions of such poor, lost ones are there. They are lost, because of their ignorance and the power of undisciplined impulses. They did not realize that it is a dreadful thing to live a life apart from God and communion with Him. They did not know that our natural instincts and feelings, without the directing touch of Divine grace, may be the marsh-lights alluring us to the bog-lands of degradation and wretchedness. They are the victims of inexperience and ignorance.

(b) Jesus spoke of lost ones who come into that condition from another cause. They are lost through the lack of power to resist the force of external influences. You know His story. One of ten pieces of money falls to the ground, and is lost. Unlike the sheep, it could not be said to have lost itself. It was a lost thing, but it was not responsible for its condition as it lay on the earth amid the dust and defilement. It had dropped from its proper place. A power outside itself—the force of gravitation—had attracted it earthward. There it lay, resourceless; the victim of circumstances it was powerless to control; a lost thing.

Are there not millions of souls in the condition of that coin?—millions who have fallen away from God and goodness and lie in the dust and defilement of evil, because of the irresistible force of circumstances which have dragged them downward?

Go into the slums of our big cities. Look into the faces of debased men and "unwomanly women" —aye, into the faces of little children, and see written there the inscription—"Lost; lost to God and goodness and to all that lifts man above the savage and the brute!" Yes, lost! But why? Could they help being lost; could they in the face of surroundings which dragged them hellward, be other than they are? Would thousands of respectable ones who comfort themselves with a Religion which denies to Christ the willingness and power of saving in Another World those wretched ones so handicapped in this world— would they—we ask, in like circumstances, have been any better than they?

That, then, is another class of lost souls with which the Saviour said He would deal.

(c) Jesus spoke of another class who become lost. They are the ones who wilfully and deliberately leave God. They know what is right, and elect to do what is wrong. These are they who can find their way back to God only through bitter experience and the trying fire of sobering discipline.

You remember the parable upon which the preachers have so often preached and missed the grandest point of all in it.

The son of a good father turns his back upon his parent, leaves his home and goes forth to his indulgence, wastefulness and sin. You know the history. Not until after a terrible experience of remorse, shame, beggary, hunger, rags, husks and swine, did he "come to himself" and get back to the forsaken father and home.

That prodigal was a lost soul. The Christ said so—"My son was dead . . . my son was lost.''

There are millions who have wilfully and deliberately turned themselves away from God. Like the prodigal, they, too, must face the spiritual beggary, the soul-hunger, the disgrace and remorse.

Alas! yes; but thank God I the words of the Saviour lift from all thoughtful minds the hopelessness and horror which the old teaching must inspire us as we think of lost souls.

The words He spoke transport our thoughts to a future in which, by the eye of faith, we behold a redeemed humanity and a "satisfied" Christ. See! the God-implanted aspiration of the poet has come to pass—

"I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all:"

The "Restitution of all things" is accomplished. Men, by the Love of God and the grace of Jesus, have risen "on stepping-stones of their dead selves to higher things." The words of the Saviour once spoken upon earth, are spoken again, as His proclamation of completed work to the World of Spirit. "Rejoice with Me; for I have found My sheep which was lost." "Rejoice with Me; for I have found the piece which I had lost." "My son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found."

And the old, crude, earth-bound ideas of God and His Gospel! Well,

"Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of Thee,
And Thou, O Lord, art more than they."


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Other Books by Rev. Chambers:

"Man and the Spiritual World" (1903 UK Edition)
"Problems of the Spiritual" (1907 UK Edition)

Rev. Arthur Chambers Returns From "Death" To Speak Through The Zodiac Circle
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