WHAT I BELIEVE
by Leo Tolstoy
Granting, then, that the doctrine of Christ gives bliss to the world; granting that it is rational; and that man, as a rational being, has no right to renounce it; what can one man do alone, amidst a world of men who do not fulfill the law of Christ? If all would agree to practice the doctrine of Christ, its fulfillment would be possible; but what can the efforts of one man avail, if the whole world is against him? How often do we hear it said, ‘If, amidst a whole world of men who do not fulfill the doctrine of Christ, I alone begin to follow it, by giving up what I love, by letting my cheek be struck, or even by refusing to take an oath, or to have any part in war, I shall be robbed, and, if I do not starve, I shall be either beaten to death, or imprisoned, or shot; and I shall have destroyed the happiness of my whole life, and even my life itself, in vain.’
We often hear men argue thus, and I said the same myself, until I had entirely set aside the influence of Church teaching, which had prevented my taking in the full meaning of Christ’s doctrine about life.
Christ gives His doctrine as the means of salvation from the corrupt life that those who do not follow His teaching lead, and yet I say that I should like to follow it, but cannot make up my mind to ruin my life! It would seem, then, that I do not consider my life as corrupt, but as something real and good, and something that is my own. It is just in the conviction that this earthly, individual life is something real, and something that actually belongs to us, that the misunderstanding lies, which prevents our comprehending the doctrine of Christ. Christ knows the delusion by which men consider their own individual lives as something real, and something to which they have a personal right; and He shows them, in a series of sermons and parables, that they have no claims on life, that they have, indeed, no life at all, until they attain true life by renouncing the shadow of which they call their life.
In order to understand Christ’s doctrine of salvation, we must, first of all, comprehend what the prophets Solomon, Buddha, and all the sages of the world have said concerning the individual life of man. We may, as Pascal says, live on without thinking of all this, holding a screen before our eyes, which hides from us the abyss of death, toward which we are all hastening; but we need only reflect upon what the individual life of man is to be convinced that his entire life, if it is only the individual life, is of no importance for each separate man.
In order to understand the doctrine of Christ, we must first of all consider ourselves and repent, so that in us may be fulfilled the μετανοια, which the precursor of Christ, John the Baptist, speaks of when preaching to men who, like ourselves, had gone astray. He says first of all, ‘Repent,’ i.e., consider yourselves, ‘otherwise you shall all perish.’ He says, ‘The axe is already laid to the root of the tree to hew it down. Death and destruction are close at hand. Remember this, and alter your lives.’ Christ begins His preaching with the same words, ‘Repent, or you shall all perish.’
Luke 13:1-5: Christ hears of the destruction of the Galileans, killed by Pilate, and He says, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish. Or do you think that those eighteen men, upon whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them, were sinners above all men who lived in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish.’
If Christ lived in our days in Russia, He would have said, ‘Do you suppose that those who were burnt in the circus at Berditche, or who perished on the embankment near Koukouevo, were sinners above all others? You shall likewise perish if you do not repent, if you do not find that which is imperishable. The death of those who were crushed by the tower, who were burnt in the circus, fills you with awe, but death, awful and inevitable, awaits you too. And you endeavor in vain to forget it. If it comes upon you unawares, it will be more awful still.’
He says (Luke 12:54-57), ‘When you see a cloud rise out of the west, you immediately say there is a shower coming, and so it is. And when the south wind blows, you say there will be heat, and so it is. Hypocrites, you can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it that you do not discern this time? Why you yourselves not judge what must be?’
‘You can judge, according to various signs, what the weather will be like. How is it then, that you cannot see what awaits you yourselves? You may try to escape peril; you may take the greatest care of your life, and still, if Pilate does not kill you, the tower will crush you, and if neither Pilate nor the tower destroys you, you will die in your bed in worse tortures.’
Make a simple calculation, as worldly men do when they begin any business, as, for instance, erecting a tower, going to war, or building a factory. They work with some rational end in view. Luke 14:28-31: ‘For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, to see whether he has sufficient resources to finish it? Lest by chance after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold 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 does not sit down first and consult whether he is able, with ten thousand, to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?’
‘Isn’t it senseless to work at what will never be finished, however hard you may try! Death will always come before you have built up the tower of your earthly happiness. And if you know beforehand that however you may struggle against death, it will conquer you, would it not be better, instead of struggling against it, not to put your whole soul into what shall surely perish, but to seek some work that cannot be destroyed by inevitable death?’
Luke 12:22-27: And He said to His disciples, ‘Therefore I say to you, take no thought for your life, what you shall eat; neither for the body, what you shall put on. Your life is more than meat, and your body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens; for they neither sow nor reap; they neither have storehouse nor barn, and God feeds them; how much more are you better than they? And which of you by thinking about it can add to his stature even one cubit? If you are not able to do the very thing that is least, why do you take thought for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow; they do not toil, they do not spin; and yet I say to you that Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these.’
However much a man may care about body and food, he cannot add one hour to his life. Then isn’t it foolish to trouble oneself about things that cannot be done?
While knowing that the end is death, you care only to assure your lives by gaining wealth. Life cannot be assured by wealth. Why will you not comprehend that you but delude yourselves with a ridiculous deception?
The purpose of life, Christ says, does not lie in what we possess, and in what we gain, what is not ourselves; it must lie in something else than that. He says (Luke 12:16-21) that the life of man, in spite of all his riches, does not depend upon his property. ‘The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought within himself, “What shall I do? I have no room to store my fruits.” And he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my corn and all my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul! You have much goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool, this night your soul shall be required of you; then whose shall those things be, which you have provided?” So it is with him who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.’
Death stands every moment over you. (Luke 12:35-40) ‘Therefore, stay dressed and keep your lights shining; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he comes and knocks, they may open to him immediately. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. And know this: if the owner of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore, be ready also; for the Son of Man comes at an hour when you do not think.’
The parables of the virgins awaiting the bridegroom, of the end of the age, and of the last judgment all refer, according to the opinion of interpreters, not merely to the end of the world, but also to the peril in which every man hourly stands.
Death, death, death attends us every second. Our lives are passed in the presence of death. While working individually for your future, you well know that the future will give you nothing but death. And death will destroy all you worked for. Thus, it is clear that life for oneself can never have any meaning. If there is a rational life, it must be some other kind of life; it must be one, the purpose of which does not consist in securing one’s own future. To live rationally, we must live so that death cannot destroy our life.
Luke 10:41: ‘Martha, Martha, you are careful and troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary.’
All the innumerable affairs that we transact for ourselves will be of no use to us in the future; all such things are but the illusion with which we deceive ourselves. ‘But one thing is necessary.’
The state of man from the day of his birth is such that inevitable destruction awaits him, that is, a senseless life and a senseless death, if he does not find what alone is necessary for the true life. Christ reveals to men that which alone gives them the true life. He does not invent it, He does not promise to give it by His divine power; He only shows mankind that, besides the individual life, there must be another life, which is truth, and not deception.
Christ, in his parable of the vine-dresser (Matt. 21:33-42), explains the source of human error, which hides the truth from men, and which makes them consider the shadow of life, their own individual life, as the true one.
Certain men, living in their master’s cultivated garden, fancied themselves the owners of that garden; and that error leads to a series of irrational and cruel actions on the part of those men, ending in their banishment, their exclusion from that life in the garden. So likewise do we fancy that the life of each of us is his own, that we have a right to it, and that we can do as we like with it, without being responsible to any one. We cannot, therefore, avoid the same series of senseless and cruel actions and misfortunes, or escape the same exclusion from the life we misuse. As the vine-dressers fancied that the more cruel they were the better they would assure their own prosperity, by killing the servants and the master’s son, so do we fancy that the more cruel we are the more independent we shall become.
As it was with the vine-dressers, who, after refusing others the fruits of the garden, were driven out themselves by their master, so is it with men, who fancy that life for self is the true life. Death expels them and others take their place, not as a punishment, but merely because those men did not understand life. As the men in the garden either forgot, or would not admit, that the garden had only been entrusted to their care, that it was already cultivated and fenced around, and somebody had previously been working in it for them, and therefore expected them to work too, for the sake of others; so do men, while living for themselves, forget, or fail to recognize, all that had been done by others before their birth, and all that is done during their lifetime; and that, therefore, something is expected of them too; they choose to forget that all the blessings of life, which they enjoy, were entrusted and are entrusted to them, and must, therefore, either be transferred or given up.
This improved view of life, this μετανοια, is the cornerstone of the doctrine of Christ, as He says at the end of the parable. According to Christ’s doctrine, the vine-dressers, who lived in the vineyard that they had not cultivated themselves, should have known and felt that they were deeply indebted to the master; and so should men likewise understand and feel that, from the day of their birth to the day of their death, they owe a heavy debt to those who lived before them, to those who still live, and to those who are to live after them. They should understand that every hour of the life they continue to live that debt grows heavier; and that, therefore, the man who lives for himself, and does not acknowledge the obligation that binds him to life and to the principle of life, deprives himself of life. He should understand that by living thus he destroys his life, while desiring to save it.
The true life is but a continuation of past life, and works for the good of the present life, as well as for that of the future. To be a sharer of that life, man must renounce his own will and fulfill the will of the Father of life, who gave it to the son of man.
John 8:35: ‘The servant who does his own will, and not that of his master, does not abide for ever in the house of his master; only the son, who fulfills the will of the father, abides forever,’ Christ says, expressing the same idea in another sense.
The will of the Father of life is not the life of the individual man, but of the ‘son of man,’ that lives in men; and therefore a man keeps his life only when he considers it as a trust given to him by the Father, in order to serve the good of all; and he really lives when he lives not for himself, but for the ‘son of man.’
Matt. 25:14-46: A householder gave each of his servants a share of his property and left them, without any instructions. Some of the servants, though they had not received any orders from their master concerning the way in which they were to use their share of the master’s property, understood that it was not theirs, but his, and that the property was to grow; they, therefore, worked for the master. And the servants who had worked for the master became shareholders of the master’s business, while those who had not worked were deprived of what had been given to them.
The life of the son of man is given to all men, and they are not told why it is given to them. Some understand that life is not their own, but is a trust, and that it must serve the life of the ‘son of man.’ Others, under the pretext that they do not understand the purpose of life, do not live up to that high aim. Those who do are united to the source of life; and those who do not, are deprived of life. And, from the verses 31 to 46, Christ tells us what is meant by serving the ‘son of man,’ and in what the reward of that service consists.
The son of man, according to the words of Christ, will say (v. 34) as the king did, ‘Come, you blessed of the Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you, for I was hungry, and you gave me meat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; you clothed, visited, and comforted me; for I am the same in you, and in the least of those whom you took pity on, and to whom you have done good. You lived, not for yourselves, but for the ‘son of man,’ and therefore shall you have eternal life.’
Christ speaks only of that eternal life throughout the gospel. And strange as it may seem to say so of Christ, who Himself rose from the dead, and who promised to raise all men, He never, by a single word, confirmed the belief in individual resurrection or in individual immortality beyond the grave, but He even attached to the raising up of the dead in the kingdom of the Messiah, as taught by the Pharisees, a meaning that excluded the idea of individual resurrection.
The Sadducees disputed the raising up of the dead. The Pharisees acknowledged it, as all true believers among the Jews still do. The raising up of the dead (not the resurrection, as the word has been erroneously translated) will, according to the Jewish belief, be accomplished at the coming of the Messiah, and the establishing of the kingdom of God on earth. And Christ, on meeting with this belief in a temporary, local, and carnal resurrection, rejects it, and sets in its place His doctrine of the restoration to eternal life in God.
When the Sadducees, who said there was no resurrection, and supposed that Christ agreed in opinion with the Pharisees, asked Him, ‘Whose wife shall she be, of the seven?’ He gives a clear and definite answer to both questions.
He says (Matt. 22:29-32, Mark 12:24-27, Luke 20:34-38), ‘You err, not knowing the scripture or the power of God.’ And in refutation of the belief of the Pharisees, He says, ‘The raising up of the dead is neither carnal nor individual. Those who are raised from the dead become the sons of God and live like angels (the powers of God) in heaven (with God), and there can be no question for them whose wife she will be, because, being one with God, they lose all individuality.’ Concerning the raising up of the dead, He continues, in reply to the Sadducees, who acknowledged only an earthly life, and nothing but an earthly carnal life, ‘Have you not read what God said to you? The Scripture says that God said to Moses, from the bush, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” If God said to Moses that He was the God of Jacob, then Jacob is not dead; for God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. With God all are living. And therefore, if there is a living God, the man who is one with God lives too.’
In reply to the Pharisees, Christ says that the raising from the dead cannot be carnal and individual. In reply to the Sadducees, He says that, besides an individual and temporary life, there is another life in communion with God.
Denying individual and carnal resurrection, Christ asserts that the raising from the dead lies in the transfusion of man’s life into God. Christ preaches salvation from individual life, and sets that salvation in the exaltation of the son of man and a life in God. Connecting His doctrine with that of the Hebrews, as far as concerns the coming of the Messiah, He speaks to them of the raising up of the son of man from the dead, thereby meaning, not a personal carnal rising from the dead, but an awakening to life in God. Of individual carnal resurrection He never speaks. The best proof that Christ never preached the resurrection of men from the dead is found in the very two texts quoted by theologians in confirmation of His doctrine of resurrection. These two texts are Matthew 25:31-46 and John 5:28-29. In the first He speaks of the coming, that is, the raising up, the exaltation, of the son of man (we find the same in Matt. 10:23), and the greatness and power of the son of man are likened to those of a king. In the second text, Christ speaks of the raising up of true life here on earth, as expressed in the 24th verse.
It only needs a closer consideration of the meaning of Christ’s doctrine of eternal life in God; it only needs to re-establish in our minds the teaching of the Hebrew prophets to enable us to comprehend that if Christ had wished to preach the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, which, at that time was being embodied in the Talmud, and was a subject of dispute, He would have done so, clearly and definitely; yet, on the contrary, He not only avoided preaching that doctrine, but even refuted it; nor do we find a single passage in the gospel to confirm it. The two above-mentioned texts have a very different meaning.
Strange as the assertion may seem to those who have not studied the gospel, never in a single passage does Christ speak of His own personal resurrection. If, as theologians maintain, the basis of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Christ, the least we could expect would be that Christ, knowing He would rise from the dead, and that upon His rising the chief dogma of the faith would be founded, should at least once have said so, clearly and definitely. Yet He never does; nor do we find any mention made of His resurrection throughout the whole canonical gospel. The doctrine taught is the exaltation of the ‘son of man,’ or, in other words, of the substance of life in man; and this is to acknowledge one’s self to be the son of God. In Himself, Christ personifies man, who acknowledges Himself to be the Son of God. Matt. 16:13-20: He asks the disciples what men say of Him, the son of man. The disciples answer that some think Him to be John, miraculously raised from the dead; some think Him a prophet; some Elijah, come down from heaven. ‘And what do you think of me?’ He asks. And Peter, thinking of Christ as he himself did, answers, ‘You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.’ And Christ says, ‘Flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but our Father who is in heaven,’ or, ‘You have understood, not because you have believed the words of men, but because, knowing yourself to be the son of God, you have understood me.’ And having explained to Peter that true faith lies in our knowing ourselves to be the sons of God, Christ says to the other disciples (v. 20) that they should, in future, tell no man that He, Jesus, is the Messiah. And then Christ says that, though He will be put to torture and death, the son of man, knowing Himself to be the son of God, will be raised up and will triumph over all. And yet these words are interpreted as foretelling His resurrection.
John 2:19-22, Matt. 12:40, Luke 11:20, Matt. 16:21, Matt. 16:4, Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22, Matt. 17:23, Mark 9:31, Matt. 20:19, Mark 10:34, Luke 18:33, Matt. 26:32, Mark 14:48. These fourteen texts are all supposed to prove that Christ foretold His resurrection. In three of these texts He speaks of Jonah in the belly of the whale; and in one, of the raising of the temple. In the other ten texts, Christ says that the son of man cannot be destroyed forever; but nowhere do we find one word concerning His resurrection.
Indeed, in the original, the word ‘resurrection’ does not occur in any one of these texts. Give a man, unacquainted with theological interpretation, but with some knowledge of Greek, these texts to translate, and he will never render their meaning in the way our translators of the gospel have done. There are, in the original, two different words in these texts: the one is ανιςτημι, the other is εγειρω. One of these words signifies ‘to raise.’ The other signifies ‘to rouse or waken,’ or it might be to awaken, to rise. But neither of them can possibly mean ‘rise from the dead.’ In order to be quite sure that these Greek words, and the Hebrew equivalent ‘coum,’ cannot signify ‘to rise from the dead,’ it will suffice to compare the texts in which these words are used. They occur very often, but never in the sense of ‘rise from the dead.’
The word ‘resuscitate,’ ‘auferstehen,’ ‘réssusciter,’ does not exist either in the Greek or in the Hebrew languages, any more than did the idea itself, which the word implies. In order to express the idea of resurrection in Greek or in Hebrew, a periphrasis must be made use of – either ‘he rose from the dead,’ or ‘he awoke from the dead.’ It is thus in Matt. 14:2, where we read that Herod supposed that John the Baptist had risen from the dead; the expression is, ‘woke up from the dead.’ We find the same in the gospel according to St. Luke 16:31, in the parable of Lazarus. Christ says that even if a man rose from the dead they would not believe him. We again find, in this text, the words ‘risen from the dead.’ In the texts where the words ‘to rise’ or ‘to wake up,’ are used without the addition of the words ‘from the dead,’ they never did signify, and never can be supposed to signify, ‘resurrection.’ When Christ speaks of Himself in the above-mentioned passages, which are considered as proofs that He foretold His resurrection, He never once appends the words, ‘from the dead’.
Our idea of resurrection is so far from the Hebrews’ ideas of life that we cannot even imagine Christ could have spoken to them of resurrection and of an eternal, individual life common to all men. The idea of a future individual life has not been transmitted to us, either through the teaching of the Hebrews or through the doctrine of Christ. It made its way into the teaching of the Church from a very different source. Strange as it may sound, it must be confessed that a belief in a future individual life is the lowest and grossest conception, based only on a confusion of sleep with death, which is common to all barbarous nations. The teaching of the Hebrews, however, stood immeasurably higher than that conception.
We feel so convinced that this superstition is a very exalted one that we very seriously allege, as a proof of the superiority of our doctrine over all others, the fact that we uphold that superstition, while others, as for instance, the Chinese and the Hindus, do not. This is maintained, not only by theologians, but also by free-thinking learned historians of religion such as Tille, Max Müller, and others. Classifying the various religions, they assert that the religions that keep to that superstition are superior to those that do not. The free-thinker, Schoppenhauer, calls the Hebrew religion the most contemptible (niederträchstigste) of all, because it contains no idea (keine idee) of the immortality of the soul. And, indeed, in the Hebrew religion, neither the meaning nor the word expressive of it exists. Eternal life in the Hebrew language is ‘haieoïlom.’ The word ‘oïlom’ signifies, ‘endless, immutable.’ ‘Oïlom’ likewise signifies ‘world’ – cosmos. Life in general, and especially eternal life, haieoïlom is, according to the Hebrews, proper to God alone. God is the God of life – the living God. Man, according to the Hebrew belief, is always mortal. God alone lives forever. In the five books of Moses we find the words ‘eternal life’ used twice. Once in Deuteronomy 32:39-40, God says, ‘See now that I am I, and there is no other God but Me. I kill and I make alive, I wound and I heal, neither is there any who can be delivered from Me. I lift up my hand to heaven and say, I live for ever.’ In the book of Genesis 3:22, God says, ‘Behold, the man has eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and has become like one of us; and now, he might put forth his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.’ These are the only two cases in which the words ‘eternal life’ are used in the Old Testament – excepting one chapter of the apocryphal book of Daniel – and they clearly define the idea the Hebrews had both of life in general and of eternal life. Life itself, according to Jewish belief, is eternal, and it is such in God; man is always mortal – such is his nature.
The Old Testament does not tell us, as our Bible histories do, that God breathed an immortal soul into man, nor that the first man was immortal until he sinned. According to the Book of Genesis (1:26), God created man, as He did all other living creatures, male and female, and commanded them to increase and multiply. God spoke of man just as he spoke of beast. In the second chapter it is said that man learned to ‘know good and evil.’ But we are told too, that God ‘drove man out of Eden, and barred his way to the tree of life.’ Thus man did not eat of the fruit of the tree of life, and thus he did not attain the haieoïlom, i.e., eternal life, but remained mortal.
According to Jewish doctrine, man is mortal. Life for him is but a life that continues in the people, from generation to generation. Only the people, according to Jewish doctrine, can live. When God says you shall live and not die, he speaks to the people. The life breathed by God into man is but a mortal life for each individually, but it continues from generation to generation if men fulfill their covenant with God, if they keep the conditions laid down by God.
After expounding the laws, and declaring that these laws were not in heaven, but in their own hearts, Moses says (Deut. 30:15), ‘See, I now set before you life and good, death and evil, exhorting you to love God and walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, that you may live.’ And verse 19: ‘I call heaven and earth to record against you that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving God, obeying Him and cleaving to Him; for He is your life and the length of your days.’
The principal difference between our idea of human life and that of the Hebrews is that, according to us, our mortal life – which passes on from generation to generation – is not the true life, but a fallen one, a temporary corrupt life; while, according to the Hebrews this life is the true one, it is the highest blessing given to man, and given to him on the condition that he fulfills the will of God. From our point of view, the transition of that fallen life from generation to generation is the continuation of the curse. From the Hebrew point of view it is the highest blessing man can attain, and he attains it by fulfilling the will of God.
It is on this idea of life that Christ bases his doctrine concerning the true or eternal life, which He opposes to mortal, individual life. ‘Search the Scriptures,’ Christ says to the Hebrews (John 5:39), ‘for in them you think you have eternal life.’
A young man asks Christ (Matt. 19) what he should do to have eternal life. In answer to his question Christ says, ‘If you will enter into life’ (He does not say life eternal, but ‘life’), ‘keep the commandments.’ He says the same to the lawyers, ‘Do this, and you shall live’ (Luke 10:28); and again He says ‘live’ without adding ‘eternally.’ In both these cases Christ defines what each man should understand by the words ‘eternal life.’ In using these words He says to the Hebrews what is more than once said in their law, that fulfilling the will of God is eternal life.
Christ contrasts a temporary, personal, individual life with the eternal life, which, according to Deuteronomy, God promised to Israel, with the only difference that, according to the Hebrews, eternal life was to continue only among the chosen people of Israel, and that it was necessary, in order to attain that life, to keep the laws given by God exclusively to Israel; but, according to the doctrine of Christ, eternal life continues in the son of man, and, in order to keep it, it is necessary to fulfill the laws of Christ, which teach what the will of God is for all mankind.
It is not a life beyond the grave that Christ contrasts with individual life, but a life bound up with the present, past, and future of all mankind – the life of the ‘son of man.’
Individual life was redeemed from perdition, according to the Hebrews, only by fulfilling the will of God, expressed in the commandments given by God to Moses. It was only thus that life was not destroyed, but was to pass from generation to generation, among the chosen people of God. Individual life is saved from perdition, according to the doctrine of Christ, likewise by fulfilling the will of God, expressed in the commandments of Christ. It is only thus that individual life does not perish, but becomes eternal in the son of man. The only difference between the two doctrines is that, according to Moses, serving God meant the serving Him of but one people, whereas, according to Christ, the serving of God the Father means the serving of God by all mankind. Life could hardly continue through long generations among one people; for the nation itself might disappear off the face of the earth, and its continuation would depend upon the increase or diminution of posterity. But endless life, according to the doctrine of Christ, is sure, for it is transferred into the son of man living up to the will of the Father.
Let us suppose that Christ’s words concerning the day of judgment and the end of the world, as well as the words we read in the gospel of St. John, do promise a life beyond the grave for the souls of the dead, yet there can be no doubt that His doctrine of the light of life, of the kingdom of God, has a meaning as intelligible to us as it was to his hearers; i.e., that true life is but the life of the son of man, according to the will of the Father. This can be more easily admitted, as the doctrine concerning true life, according to the will of the Father of Life, includes the idea of immortality and life beyond the grave. It would perhaps be more just to infer that man, after a life passed in following his own will in this world, will not enjoy an eternal individual life of bliss in paradise. That would perhaps be more just, but to think thus, to believe in eternal bliss awaiting me as a reward for the good I have done, and eternal torment as the punishment of my evil deeds, does not lead to a clear comprehension of Christ’s doctrine. To think thus is, on the contrary, to do away with the groundwork of Christ’s doctrine.
The whole purpose of Christ’s doctrine is to teach His disciples that, individual life being but a delusion, they should renounce it and transfer their individual lives into the life of all humanity, into the life of the son of man. The doctrine of the immortality of each soul does not require of us to renounce our lives, but, on the contrary, confirms their individuality forever.
According to the ideas of the Hebrews, the Chinese, and the Hindus, and of all those who do not believe in the dogmas of the fall of man and the redemption, the life we have is life. Man lives, has children, educates them, grows old, and dies. His children grow up and continue his life, which goes on without intermission from generation to generation, existing just as all else in the world exists – stones, metals, plants, beasts, and all else. Life is life, and we must make the most of it. To live for self alone is irrational. And, therefore, since man has first existed on the earth, each one seeks some aim in life beyond his own individual life. He lives for his children, his family, his nation, for humanity, for all that does not die with his individual life.
Now, according to the teaching of our Church, life, the greatest blessing known to us, is only a part of life, the rest of which is kept from us for a time. According to the Church, our life is not the life God wished to give us, not the life God ought to have given to us; but a corrupt, bad, fallen life, only an imperfect specimen of what life should be.
The chief problem of life, according to this thesis, does not consist in leading the mortal life that is given to us as the giver of it wishes us to do; not in our considering it eternal from generation to generation, as the Hebrews do; nor in uniting it to the will of the Father, as Christ taught us to do, but in persuading ourselves that after this life the true life will begin.
Christ says nothing of that imaginary life. The theories of the fall of Adam, of eternal life in paradise, and of the immortal soul breathed by God into Adam, were unknown to Christ, and therefore He does not mention them, nor even allude to them.
Christ speaks of the life that is, and that always will be. We speak of an imaginary life, which never did exist. Then how are we to understand the doctrine of Christ?
Christ could never have supposed so strange an idea among His followers. He supposes all men to understand that individual life must inevitably perish; and He reveals a life that cannot perish. Christ comforts those who are in trouble; but His doctrine can give nothing to those who are convinced that they have more than Christ can give.
Suppose I were to exhort a man to work, assuring him that he would thereby earn food and clothing, and that man were suddenly to discover he was already a millionaire, isn’t it obvious that he would not heed my words?
It is thus with the doctrine of Christ. Why should I work, when I can be rich without doing so? What profit shall I have of living up to the commandments of God, when I am convinced that, whether I do or not, I shall live forever, individually?
We are taught that Christ-God, the second person of the Trinity, saved mankind by being incarnate and by taking upon Himself the sin of Adam and of all mankind; that He redeemed man from sin and the wrath of the first person of the Trinity, and that He instituted the Church and the sacraments for our salvation; that we have but to believe this to be saved, and to attain an eternal, individual life beyond the grave. But we cannot deny that Christ likewise saved men by warning them of their inevitable destruction, and still saves them by the same; and that His words – ‘I am the way, the life, and the truth’ – point out to us the true path of life, instead of the wrong path of individual life that we trod before.
There may be men who doubt the existence of life beyond the grave, and of salvation being based on redemption, but no one can doubt the salvation of all men in general, and of each individually, through their being warned of the inevitable destruction brought on by individual life, and through being shown that the true way to salvation lies in the fusion of their will with the will of the Father. Let any rational being ask himself what are life and death as applied to himself personally. Let him try to attach any other meaning to life and death than that which Christ pointed out.
Every idea of individual life, if it is not based on the renouncing of self for the service of man, of mankind, of the son of man, is an illusion that vanishes at the first touch of reason. I cannot doubt that, though my individual life is perishable, the life of the world according to the will of the Father can never be destroyed; and that a fusion with it alone makes salvation possible for me. But that is so little, compared to the elevated religious faith in a future life! Little, I grant, but it is sure. I lose my way in a snowdrift. A man assures me that he sees lights in the distance; that there is a village nearby. He thinks he sees the lights, and so do I; but it only seems to us that we see them because we desire to see them, for we tried to reach these same lights before, and could not find them. One of us walks on through the snow, and in a short time comes out onto the road and cries, ‘Do not go on, the lights you see are only in your imagination; you will lose your way and perish! I stand on firm ground, follow me, this road will lead us out!’
That is but little. While believing in the lights, which glimmered before our dazzled eyes, we saw ourselves in our imaginations already in the village, in a warm hut, in safety and at rest, while here there was only firm ground. Yes; but if we follow the man who spoke first we shall inevitably freeze to death; if we mind the second, we shall reach the good road.
And what shall I do, if I alone have understood the doctrine of Christ and believe in it, among all those who do not understand and will not fulfill it?
What shall I do? Shall I live as all do, or live according to Christ’s doctrine? I understand His commandments, and I see that the fulfilling of them will lead me, and all men, to perfect happiness. I understand that it is the will of the Author of all things, the will of Him from whom I have life, that these commandments should be fulfilled.
I understand that, whatever I may do, I shall inevitably perish, as will all those around me, after a senseless life and death, if I do not fulfill the will of the Father; and that the only possibility of salvation lies in fulfilling it.
By acting as others do, I act against the good of all men, I act contrary to the will of the Father of life, and I deprive myself of the only possibility of bettering my hopeless state. By doing what Christ teaches me I shall ensure the good of all men – of those who live at present, and of those who are to live after me. I do what He who gave me life desires me to do. I do what can alone save me.
The circus in Berditche is on fire. All crowd toward the door, crushing each other in their efforts to open the door, which opens inward. A savior comes and says to them, ‘Move further from the door, turn back; the closer you all stand to the door, the less hope of safety there is for you. If you turn back you will find an exit, and you will be saved!’
Whether I alone hear the words and believe matters but little; but having heard and believed, can I do otherwise than turn back and call upon the others to follow the voice of him who comes to save them? I shall, perhaps, be smothered, crushed, or killed; but the sole hope of safety is in my going toward the only exit. A savior must be a savior indeed, i.e., he must save. And the salvation of Christ is salvation indeed. He appeared, He spoke, and mankind is now saved.
The circus burned for a whole hour; and it was necessary to make haste, or else all could not have been saved. But the world has been burning for eighteen hundred years; burning from the time Christ said, ‘I come to send fire on the earth; and how I languish until it is kindled.’ And it will burn until men are saved. Wasn’t man created, and doesn’t the fire burn, only that the happiness of man might be saved from it?
I know there is no other door, either for myself or for those who suffer with me in this life. I know that neither those around me nor I can be saved, except by fulfilling the commandments of Christ, which give the highest bliss to all mankind.
I may have more to suffer. I may die earlier, through fulfilling Christ’s doctrine. I fear neither suffering nor death. He who does not see how senseless and perishable his individual life is, he who thinks that he will not die, may fear. But, knowing that life for individual happiness alone is foolish to the highest degree, and that the end of that foolish life will be but a foolish death, I cannot fear it. I shall die, as all do, as those who do not fulfill Christ’s doctrine do – yet my life and death will have some meaning for myself and for all. My life and death will minister to the salvation and lives of all men; and that is what Christ taught us.
 A town in the south of Russia where a dreadful railway catastrophe took place in 1883.
 These words have been incorrectly translated. The word ηλικια means age, time of life; therefore the expression signifies: ‘you cannot add one hour to your life.’