“Dear Brother Gandhi,
Under a double prompting when praying for you, I sit down to write. You have had your name blazoned abroad all over the (so-called) civilized world, as one of the greatest philosophers and sacrificial workers on earth. In India you have been proclaimed the Mahatma and actually worshipped as one of the incarnations of India's many deities, and much as you have declared that you do not encourage these ascriptions of sanctity, you would indeed be more than human if you did not occasionally feel a sweet complacency in them. Your practice also of fastings when sin has been committed, or quarrels have taken place in your Ashram or schools, has had a tendency to make Indians believe that you can merit blessing which can be communicated to others,— but has anybody been loving and courageous enough to write and challenge you as to how personally you are going to obtain atonement for your own sin? All your self-denials and fastings and prayers and good deeds cannot blot out one sin of your earlier days. For thirty or more years of your life you lived the carnal self life, seeking and forming your own plans and ambitions without seeking to know God's purpose for your life or to honour His holy name. You were a trustee of talents intended to be used for the glory of God and the good of your fellowmen. Nothing that you do can obliterate the record of those years of indifference and disobedience. Every hour of every day of that period at least lifts up its voice in condemnation. Law must be vindicated. Some punishment must be inflicted. But even on earth it is a recognized principle that the prerogative of an earthly king is to have mercy — and yet righteousness must be the very foundation from which mercy may flow. The Laws of the Universe proclaim the impartial justice of the Creator and confirm the Bible declaration: 'The soul that sinneth, it shall die,' and yet the doctrine of vicarious suffering is written in the very nature of human existence. God is Love. Every pulse of love in every creature has its origin and activity from Him. Parental, mother love, all love is a manifestation of our emanation from the fountain of the Divine Love. Milton sings:
'Of ere the kindred source be down
The kindred blood will claim his own
And throbbing pulses silently
Move heart to heart in sympathy.'
‘If all sin is sin against God' (Psalm 51) the prerogative of forgiveness is His. If His righteous judgment is appeased by (for God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them) Himself suffering the death penalty on behalf of the race; and if, as in Philippines (II. 6-11) He commands everyone in heaven and on earth to accept Christ as Saviour and Lord to the glory of God the Father, how shall we (how will you) escape if you neglect so great a salvation ?
Even if, as you profess to believe, Christ was only one of many incarnations of God, and the latest of them, you must either accept His tremendous claims as of Divine origin, or reject them as only human and fallible. And when He declares as He did to the Jews of His day — 'If ye believe not that I am He, you shall die in your sins,' or ' I am the way, the truth and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me,' you must either believe Him to have been self-deceived, or deliberately false. I see no other solution. I pray daily that Christ may grant you revelation of Himself, as He did to Saul of Tarsus, that before you pass off this earthly scene, you may be used to proclaim to India's millions the sacrificial efficacy of His precious blood.
Yours lovingly in His glad service."
This is a typical letter from an old English friend who regularly writes such letters almost every six months. This friend is very earnest and well known to me. But there are numerous other correspondents unknown to me who write in the same strain without arguing. Since now I cannot, for reasons of health, write to individuals, I use this letter as a text for a general reply. Incidentally, this effort will enable the readers of Harijan, who accept my guidance, to understand the nature of my religious belief.
My correspondent is a literalist. He gives its literal meaning to every text of the Bible in spite of its clear statement that "the letter killeth, the spirit giveth life/' My very first reading of the Bible showed me that I would be repelled by many things in it if I gave their literal meaning to many texts or even took every passage in it as the word of God. I found, as I proceeded with my study of the scriptures of the various religions, that every scripture had to be treated likewise, not excepting the Vedas or the Upanishads. Therefore the story of the immaculate conception when I interpret mystically does not repel me. I should find it hard to believe in the literal meaning of the verses relating to the immaculate conception of Jesus. Nor would it deepen my regard for Jesus if I gave those verses their literal meaning. This does not mean that the writers of the Gospels were untruthful persons. They wrote in a mood of exaltation. From my youth upward I learnt the art of estimating the value of scriptures on the basis of their ethical teaching. Miracles, therefore, had no interest for me. The miracles said to have been performed by Jesus, even if I had believed them literally, would not have reconciled me to any teaching that did not satisfy universal ethics. Somehow or other, words of religious teachers have for me, as I presume for millions, a living force which the same words uttered by ordinary mortals do not possess.
Jesus then, to me, is a great world teacher among others. He was, to the devotees of His generation, no doubt "the only begotten son of God". Their belief need not be mine. He affects my life no less because I regard Him as one among the many begotten sons of God. The adjective ' begotten' has, for me, a deeper and possibly a grander meaning than its literal meaning. For me it implies spiritual birth. In His own time He was the nearest to God.
Jesus atoned for the sins of those who accepted His teachings by being an infallible example to them. But the example was worth nothing to those who never troubled to change their lives. A regenerate outgrows the original taint even as purified gold outgrows the original alloy.
I have made the frankest admission of my sins. But I do not carry their burdens on my shoulders. If I am journeying Godward, as I feel I am, it is safe with me. For I feel the warmth of the sunshine of His presence. My austerities, fastings and prayers are, I know, of no value if I rely upon them for reforming me. But they have an inestimable value if they represent, as I hope they do, the yearnings of a soul striving to lay his weary head in the lap of his Maker.
The Gita has become for me the key to the scriptures of the world. It unravels for me the deepest mysteries to be found in them. I regard them with the same reverence that I pay to the Hindu scriptures. Hindus, Mussalmans, Christians, Parsis, Jews are convenient labels. But when I tear them down, I do not know which is which. We are all children of the same God. " Verily verily I say unto you, not everyone that sayeth unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter the Kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven shall enter the Kingdom," was said, though in different words, by all the great teachers of the world.