The first story is a basement partly underground, the region of shadow and darkness, the cellar-kitchen of this palace, where servants toil in fear and hirelings work for wages. As servants, they are faithful, conscientious and true to their Master's interests. They are not drones, nor gluttons, nor drunkards, nor stewards wasting their Master's goods. Their service is voluntary. They have chosen it in preference to any other. Yet they are not joyful, but rather fearful that they shall fail to please their Master and so lose their wages. For they toil with an eye to the reward, and every day after twelve o'clock they often look over their shoulders to see whether the sun is not setting, so that they may quit for the day and draw their pay. While they believe that they are serving the best of masters, they sigh when they contrast their condition with that of his acknowledged sons and daughters in the parlors above. They are tempted to be sad and envious, not cheerful and songful. In this state of mind there is danger of discouragement and abandonment of the service. For it is natural for to escape from an irksome employment. The predominant motive of their service is fear, not love, and there is no magnetism in fear to attract and hold them steadfast.
We forgot to say that this lower story is righteousness. It has always had a very numerous population. The Old Testament saints nearly all dwelt here. Here John the Baptist toiled. Here live today a large number of legal, not evangelical, Christians. They are under the law. Here are many good Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Protestants generally. All unconsciously they make obedience to the law the ground of their justification, while they have in their hands the New Testament, which declares that by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified, for by the law is the knowledge of sin, not deliverance from its guilt and power. It is an irksome, uphill business this earning salvation. It is always attended by a discouraging sense of failure. The sincere and devout portion of the vast Roman Catholic church here dwell under the yoke of religious bondage, both priests and people dying in gloom illumined with a single ray of hope that they may escape hell and get into purgatory, a figment of pagan mythology utterly unknown to revelation. I am so charitable as to believe that the truly pious among them will find the gate of heaven open at their coming, and that they will be saved on the same terms as any other image-worshipping pagans, through the spirit of faith and the purpose of righteousness. By this we mean the disposition to embrace Christ, the object of faith, were he properly presented to their faith, and the desire to keep the moral law were it clearly revealed to them without the chaff of traditional errors. Here again are God-fearing Mohammedans, who follow their best light, a few ethical rays from our Bible struggling through the dense fog of the errors of Islam. Here are two other classes of honest and prayerful Unitarians, those Jews who, through mis-education, rather than from badness of heart, have their eyes blindfolded to the beauty of Christ, the true Messiah, and those self-styled liberal Christians who in sincerity worship the Father, but cannot call Jesus Lord because they have not the Holy Spirit; over whose eyes cataracts have grown so that they cannot see the Central Sun in the heavens of Christian theology, the divinity of the Son of God. So far as these classes, blinded by prejudices of education and misled by blind religious guides, follow that path of righteous living revealed by the light which faintly comes to them through clouds of error, so far they may be accepted of God through the mediation of his Son, "though," as John Wesley says, "they know him not." They cannot be classed among the willful rejecters of Christ. They may be saved as servants, though they have not lived as sons. They have always dwelt among the bondmen and have been actuated by servile motives. If they have ever heard of Jesus Christ, the great emancipator who makes "free indeed," through some misconception of their privilege or of his power they have failed to appropriate his proclamation of liberty.
The difficulty with those who serve God in the legal spirit is that their acts of obedience are viewed as duty, a word not found in the Bible in the sense commonly ascribed to that term. Acts of duty are consciously performed. These are they who are legally right because they honor law. But they do not freely and spontaneously love the Lawgiver. They are like boys learning to write by painfully imitating the teacher's copy. Their action is constrained and not spontaneous and free. In the legal stage of religious experience we are thinking only of the law and its rewards and punishments. People who abstain from crime under the pressure of this motive are worthy of some commendation, for they are better citizens than those who disregard all the sanctions of law. But we reserve our highest commendation for those citizens who because of their love for their fellow-men spontaneously fulfill all the requirements of law, unconsciously obeying its precepts and refraining from its prohibitions. They help the cripple who falls in the street; they feed the hungry; they refrain from theft, adultery and murder because of the feeling of philanthropy and love of virtue, and not because of any law human or divine.
— Jesus Exultant, Chapter 7.