For him, as for Strauss, the unity of God and man is the central truth, of which Christ's atoning death is a sort of pictorial symbol.
Mysticism may broadly be described as the effort to give effect to the craving for a union of the soul with the Deity already in this life; and asceticism as the effort to give effect to the hankering after an ever-progressive purification of the soul and an atoning for sin by renunciation and self-denial in things lawful.
During the course of the 19th century in Scottish Presbyterianism the affirmation of Christ's atoning death for all men, the denial of eternal punishment, the modification of the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures by acceptance of the results of the Higher Criticism, were all censured as perilous errors.
This reconstruction of its meaning seems to have been the peculiar revelation of the Lord to Paul, who viewed Christ's crucifixion and death as an atoning sacrifice, liberating by its grace mankind from bonds of sin which the law, far from snapping, only made more sensible and grievous.
We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our duty.
It contemplates the assumption of the vow for a limited period only, and gives particular details as to the atoning ceremonies at the sanctuary by which the vow must be recommenced if broken by accidental defilement, and the closing sacrifice, at which the Nazarite on the expiry of his vow cuts off his hair and burns it on the altar, thus returning to ordinary life.
The fraternal and democratic spirit of the first communities, and their humble origin; the identification of the object of adoration with light and the Sun; the legends of the shepherds with their gifts and adoration, the flood, and the ark; the representation in art of the fiery chariot, the drawing of water from the rock; the use of bell and candle, holy water and the communion; the sanctification of Sunday and of the 25th of December; the insistence on moral conduct, the emphasis placed upon abstinence and self-control; the doctrine of heaven and hell, of primitive revelation, of the mediation of the Logos emanating from the divine, the atoning sacrifice, the constant warfare between good and evil and the final triumph of the former, the immortality of the soul, the last judgment, the resurrection of the flesh and the fiery destruction of the universe - are some of the resemblances which, whether real or only apparent, enabled Mithraism to prolong its resistance to Christianity.
The bases of priestly power under this system are the unity of the altar, its inaccessibility to laymen and to the inferior ministers of the sanctuary, and the specific atoning functions of the blood of priestly sacrifices.
Even the Hebrew historian ascribes to this act the effect of rousing divine indignation against the invading host of Israel; it would not, therefore, be surprising if under the miseries brought on Palestine by the westward march of the Assyrian power, the idea of the sacrifice of one's own son, as the most powerful of atoning rites, should have taken hold of those kings of Judah (Ahaz and Manasseh, 2 Kings xvi.
That the Jews in the time of Christ believed in a suffering and atoning Messiah is, to say the least, unproved and highly improbable.