LECTURE X. THE DIVINE SUPREMACY OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
Christ, Life, Human, Christianity, Power, World
We have in previous lectures instituted brief and partial comparisons between Christianity and particular faiths of the East, but I now propose a general comparative survey.
Never before has the Christian Faith been so boldly challenged to show cause for its supreme and exclusive claims as in our time. The early Christians encountered something of the same kind: it seemed very preposterous to the proud Roman that an obscure sect, coming out of despised Nazareth, should refuse to place a statue of its deified Founder within the Pantheon, in the goodly company of renowned gods from every part of the Roman Empire; but it did so refuse and gave its reasons, and it ultimately carried its point. It gained the Pantheon and Rome itself for Christ alone. He was proclaimed as the One Redeemer of the world, and this claim has been maintained from that day to this. "There can be no diversity," said His followers, "for there is no other name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved. The very genius of Christianity means supremacy and monopoly, for the reason that it is divine and God cannot be divided against Himself." But in our time the whole world is brought very closely together. The religions of men, like their social customs and political institutions, are placed in contact and comparison. The enemies of the Christian faith here, in Western lands, naturally make the most of any possible alliances with other systems supposed to antagonize Christianity; while a multitude of others, having no particular interest in any religion, and rather priding themselves upon a broad charity which is but a courteous name for indifference, are demanding with a superior air that fair play shall be shown to all religions alike. The Church is therefore called upon to defend her unique position and the promulgation of her message to mankind. Why does she refuse to admit the validity of other religions, and why send her missionaries over the earth to turn the non-Christian races from those faiths which are their heritage by birth, and in which they honestly put their trust? Why not respect everywhere that noblest of all man's instincts which prompts him to inquire after God, who hath made of one blood all nations that dwell upon the earth? If the old Hindu pantheism of the Bhagavad Gita taught that the worshippers of other gods were only worshipping the One Supreme Vishnu unawares; if Buddhism forbids its followers to assert that theirs is the only religion, or even that it is the best religion; is it not time that Christians should emulate this noble charity?
This plausible plea is urged with such force and volume, it is so backed by the current literature and the secular newspaper press that it cannot be ignored. The time has come when the Church must not only be able to give a reason for the faith she professes, but must assign reasons why her faith should supplant every other. I am aware that many are insisting that her true course is to be found in an intensive zeal in the promulgation of her own doctrines without regard to any other. "Preach the Gospel," it is said, "whether men will hear or whether they forbear." But it must be borne in mind that Paul's more intelligent method was to strive as one who would win, and not as they who beat the air. The Salvation Army will reach a certain class with their mere unlettered zeal. The men who purposely read only One Book, but read that on their knees, doubtless have an important work to do, but the Church as a whole cannot go back to the time when devout zealots sneered at the idea of an educated ministry. The conflict of truth and error must be waged intelligently. There are sufficient reasons for claiming a divine supremacy for the Gospel over all heathen faiths, and the sooner we thoroughly understand the difference, the more wisely and successfully shall we accomplish our work.
Wherein, then, consists the unique supremacy of the Christian faith?
1. It alone offers a real salvation. We are not speaking of ethics, or conceptions of God, or methods of race culture, but of that one element which heals the wounds of acknowledged sin and reconciles men to God. And this is found in Christianity alone. There is no divine help in any other. Systems of speculation, theories of the universe, and of our relation to the Infinite are found in all sacred books of the East. There are lofty ethical teachings gathered from the lips of many masters, and records of patient research, cheerful endurance of ascetic rigors, and the voluntary encounter of martyrs' deaths. And one cannot but be impressed by this spectacle of earnest struggles in men of every land and every age to find some way of peace. But in none of the ethnic religions has there been revealed a divine and heaven-wrought salvation. They have all begun and ended with human merit and human effort. Broken cisterns have everywhere taken the place of the One Fountain of Eternal Life. Though all these systems recognize the sin and misery of the world, and carry their estimate of them to the length of downright pessimism, they have discovered no eye that could pity and no arm that could bring salvation. In the silence and gloom of the world's history only one voice has said, "Lo, I come! in the volume of the Book it is written of me." And although men have in all ages striven to rid themselves of sin by self-mortification, and even mutilation, yet the ever-recurring question, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" was never answered till Paul answered it in his rapturous acknowledgment of victory through the righteousness of Christ. Mohammed never claimed to be a saviour or even an intercessor. He was the sword of God against idolators, and the ambassador of God to believers; but beyond the promise of a sensuous heaven, he offered no salvation. He had no remedy for sin—except that in his own case he claimed a special revelation of clemency and indulgence. Many a wholesome truth derived from the Old Testament scriptures was promulgated to the faithful, but self-righteousness, and especially valor in Mohammedan conquest, was offered as the key to paradise.
Doubtless we should view the false systems with discrimination. Like the sublime philosophy of Plato, Mohammedanism does teach an exalted idea of God, and there is, accordingly, a dignity and reverence in its forms of worship. I once witnessed a very imposing spectacle in the great mosque at Delhi, on the Moslem Sabbath. Several hundred Indian Mohammedans were repeating their prayers in concert. They were in their best attire, and fresh from their ablutions, and their concerted genuflections, the subdued murmur of their many voices, and the general solemnity of their demeanor, rendered the whole service most impressive. It contrasted strongly with the spectacle which I witnessed a little later in the temple of Siva, in Benares. The unspeakable worship of the linga, the scattering of rice and flowers and the pouring of libations before this symbol; the hanging of garlands on the horns of sacred bulls, and that by women; the rushing to and fro, tracking the filth of the sacred stables into the trodden ooze of rice and flowers which covered the temple pavements; the drawing and sipping of water from the adjacent cesspool, known as the sacred well; the shouting and striking of bells, and the general frenzy of the people—all this could be considered as nothing short of wild and depraved orgies. If we must choose, give us Islam, whether in contrast with the Siva worship of India or with the tyranny of the witch doctors of interior Africa.
Yet, I repeat, Islam has no salvation, no scheme of grace, no great Physician. In visiting any Mohammedan country one is impressed with this one defect, the want of a Mediator. I once stood in the central hall of an imposing mansion in Damascus, around the frieze of which were described, in Arabic letters of gold, "The Hundred Names of Allah." They were interpreted to me by a friend as setting forth the lofty attributes of God—for example, "The Infinite," "The Eternal," "The Creator," "The All-Seeing," "The Merciful," "The Just." No one could help being impressed by these inspiring names. They were the common heritage of Judaism and Christianity before Islam adopted them, and they are well calculated to fill the soul with reverence and awe. But there is another class of names which were predicted by Judaism and rejoiced in by Christianity, but which Islam rejects; for example, "Messiah," "Immanuel," or God with us, "The Son of God," "The Son of Man," "The Redeemer," "The Elder Brother." In a word, Islam has nothing to fill the breach between a holy and just God and the conscience-smitten souls of men. These honored names of Allah are as sublime as the snow-peaks of the Himalayas and as inaccessible. How can we attain unto them? Without a Daysman how shall we bridge the abyss that lies between? Even Israel plead for Moses to speak to them in place of the Infinite, and they voiced a felt want of all human hearts.
Yet no religious system but Christianity reveals a Mediator. There is in other faiths no such conception as the fatherhood of God. Though such names as Dyauspater, Zeuspiter or Jupiter, and others bearing the import of father are sometimes found, yet they imply only a common source, as the sun is the source of life. They lack the elements of love and fostering care. There can be no real fatherhood and no spirit of adoption except through union with the Son of God. The idea that re-birth and remission of sin may be followed by adoption and heirship, and joint heirship with the Son of the Infinite, belongs to the Christian faith alone; and the hope and inspiration of such a heritage, seen in contrast with the endless and disheartening prospects of countless transmigrations, are beyond the power of language to describe. It was with infinite reason that Paul was taught to regard his work among the Gentiles as a rescue or a deliverance "from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God," and it was a priceless boon which enabled him to offer at once the full remission of sins and a part in the glorious inheritance revealed through faith in Christ.
Mere ethical knowledge cannot comfort the human soul. Contrast the gloom of Marcus Aurelius with the joy of David in Psalm cxix.; and Seneca, also, with all his discernment, and his eloquent presentation of beautiful precepts, was one of the saddest, darkest characters of Roman history. He was the man who schemed with Catiline, and who at the same time that he wrote epigrams urged Nero onward with flattery and encouragement to his most infamous vices and his boldest crimes. Knowledge of ethical maxims and the power of expressing them, therefore, is one thing, religion is another. Religion is a device, human or divine, for raising up men by a real or a supposed supernatural aid. It ought to reveal God as a helper and a Saviour. It ought to be a provision of grace by which the Just can yet be a justifier of them that are weak and wounded by sin. The ethical systems of the heathen world corroborate the Scriptural diagnosis of man's character and condition, but they fail as prescriptions. So far as divine help and regenerative power are concerned, they leave the race helpless still.
Christianity is a system of faith in a moral as well as in an intellectual sense. It inculcates a spirit of loving, filial trust instead of a querulous self-righteousness which virtually chides the unknown Ruler of the universe. According to "The Light of Asia" when the Buddha preached at Kapilavastu there were assembled men and devils, beasts and birds, all victims alike of the cruel fate that ruled the world. Existence was an evil and only the Buddha could be found to pity. But that pity offered no hope except in the destruction of hope, and the destruction of all desire, all aspiration, even all feeling; while Christianity offers a hope which maketh not ashamed, even an immortal inheritance. Hinduism also, like Islam and Buddhism, lacks every element of divine salvation. It is wholly a thing of merit. The infinite Brahm is said to be void of attributes of all kinds. No anthropomorphic conception can be predicated of him. The three Gods of the Trimurti are cold and distant—though for Vishnu in his alleged incarnation of Krishna, a sympathetic nature was claimed at a later day—borrowed, some say, from Buddhism, or, according to others, from Christianity. In the Hindu saint all spiritual power in this life is the merit power of ascetic austerities, all hope for the future world lies in the cleansing efficacy of endless transmigrations of which the goal is absorption into deity.
But the difficulty with both Buddhism and Hinduism is that transmigration cannot regenerate. It is only a vague postponement of the moral issues of the soul. There is recognized no future intervention that can effect a change in the downward drift, and why should a thousand existences prove better than one? According to a law of physics known as the persistence of force, a body once set in motion will never stop unless through the intervention of some other resisting force. And this is strikingly true of moral character and the well-known power and momentum of habit. Who shall change the leopard's spots or deflect the fatal drift of a human soul? Remorselessly these Oriental systems exact from Kharma the uttermost farthing. They emphasize the fact that according to the sowing shall be the reaping, and that in no part of the universe can ill desert escape its awards. Even if change were possible, therefore, how shall the old score be settled? What help, what rescue can mere infinitude of time afford, though the transmigrations should number tens of thousands? There is no hint that any pitying eye of God or devil looks upon the struggle, or any arm is stretched forth to raise up the crippled and helpless soul. Time is the only Saviour—time so vast, so vague, so distant, that the mind cannot follows its cycles or trace the relations of cause and effect.
In contrast with all this, Christianity bids the Hindu ascetic cease from his self-mortification and become himself a herald of Glad Tidings. It invites the hook-swinger to renounce his useless torture and accept the availing sacrifice of Him who hung upon the Cross. It relieves woman from the power of Satan, as exercised in those cruel disabilities which false systems have imposed upon her, and assigns her a place of honor in the kingdom of God. The world has not done scoffing at the idea of a vicarious sacrifice for the sins of men, and yet it has advanced so far that its best thinkers, even without any religious bias, are agreed that the principle of self-sacrifice is the very highest element of character that man can aspire to. And this is tantamount to an acknowledgment that the great principle which the Cross illustrates, and on which the salvation of the race is made to rest, is the crowning glory of all ethics and must be therefore the germinal principle of all true religion.
Christianity with its doctrine of voluntary Divine Sacrifice was no after-thought. Paul speaks of it as "the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations but now is made manifest." It was the one great mystery which angels had desired to look into and for which the whole world had waited in travail and expectation. Christ was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," and the entire world-history has proceeded under an economy of grace. And I repeat, its fundamental principle of sacrifice, exemplified as it has been through the Christian centuries, has won the recognition even of those who were not themselves the followers of Christ. "The history of self-sacrifice during the last eighteen hundred years," says Lecky, "has been mainly the history of the action of Christianity upon the world. Ignorance and error have no doubt often directed the heroic spirit into wrong channels, and sometimes even made it a cause of great evil to mankind; but it is the moral type and beauty, the enlarged conception and persuasive power of the Christian faith that have chiefly called it into being; and it is by their influence alone that it can be permanently maintained." Speaking of the same principle Carlyle says: "It is only with renunciation that life, properly speaking, can be said to begin…. In a valiant suffering for others, not in a slothful making others suffer for us, did nobleness ever lie." And George Sand in still stronger terms has said, "There is but one sole virtue in the world—the Eternal Sacrifice of self."
While we ponder these testimonies coming from such witnesses we remember how the Great Apostle traces this wonder-working principle back to its Divine Source, and from that Source down into all the commonest walks of life when he says, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took on Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross." Or when he reminds the Corinthians that, though Christ was rich, yet for their sake He became poor, that they through His poverty might be rich.
In all the Oriental systems there is nothing like this, either as a divine source of all-availing help and rescue, or as a celestial spring of human action. It is through this communicable grace that Christ becomes the Way, the Truth, the Life. Well might Augustine say that while the philosophy of Plato led him to lofty conceptions of God, it could not show him how to approach Him or be reconciled unto Him. "For it is one thing," he says, "from the mountain's shaggy top to see the land of peace and to find no way thither; and in vain to essay through ways impossible, opposed and beset by fugitives and deserters, under their captain the lion and the dragon; and another to keep on the way that leads thither guarded by the host of the heavenly General, where they spoil not that have deserted the heavenly army; for they avoid it as very torment. These things did wonderfully sink into my bowels when I read that least of Thy Apostles, and had meditated upon Thy works and trembled exceedingly." While Christianity is wholly unique in providing an objective Salvation instead of attempting to work out perfection from "beggarly elements" within the soul itself, as all heathen systems do, and as all our modern schemes of mere ethical culture do, it at the same time implants in the heart the most fruitful germs of subjective spiritual life. Its superior transformation of human character, as compared with all other cults, is not only a matter of doctrine but also a matter of history. It is acknowledged that Christianity has wrought most powerfully of all faiths in taming savage races as well as individual men, in moulding higher civilizations and inspiring sentiments of humanity and brotherly love. "Christ," says one of the Bampton Lecturers, "is the Light that broods over all history…. All that there is upon earth of beauty, truth, and goodness, all that distinguishes the civilized man from the savage is this gift." And if it be asked how the leaven of Christ's influence has pervaded all society, the answer is that the work is presided over by a divine and omnipotent Spirit who represents Christ, who carries out what He began, who by a direct and transforming power renews and enlightens and prompts the soul.
Christianity, then, is not a record, a history of what was said and done eighteen centuries ago: it is not a body of doctrines and precepts: it is the living power of God in the soul of man. The written Word is the sword of this Divine Spirit. The renewed soul is begotten of the Spirit and it is instinct with the indwelling of the Spirit. No other system makes any claim to such an influence as that of the Holy Ghost. Sacred books, written systems of law or ethics would all prove a dead letter—the Bible itself, as well as the Veda, would be a dead letter but for the co-operation of this Divine Spirit. Sacred Scriptures might be venerated, they would not be obeyed. The dead heart must be quickened and renewed and only Christianity reveals the Transforming Power. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.
Instantaneous renewal of the character and the life is not even claimed by other faiths; there is in them nothing like the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, or that of thousands of others well known in the history of Christian experience. There are no such changes in men who, from having led lives of profligacy and irreligion, have turned at once into paths of righteousness—have tamed their wild propensities and submitted themselves to the gentle law of love. But under Christian influence we have seen Africaner the savage transformed to a tractable, humane, and loving disciple. We have seen the wild and bloodthirsty Koord subdued and made as a little child. We have seen the cannibal King Thokambo, of Fiji, turned from his cruelty to a simple, childlike faith, and made to prefer the good of his people to the glory of a powerless sceptre. Whole races, like the Northmen, have been tamed from savagery and made peaceable and earnest followers of Christ. In our own time it has been said of a missionary in the South Pacific Islands, "that when he arrived on his field there were no Christians, and when he closed his labors there were no heathen."
The religion of Gautama has won whole tribes of men, Hinduism and Mohammedanism are even now winning converts from fetish-worshipping races, but, so far as I know, none of these faiths have ever made converts except either by war or by the presentation of such motives as might appeal to the natural heart of man; there has been no spiritual transformation. If it be said that the Buddhist Nirvana and the Hindu doctrine of final absorption cannot attract the natural heart, the ready answer is that Nirvana and absorption are not the real inspiration of their respective systems. They are so far removed into the dim future as to exert no practical influence on the great mass of men. The future estate that is really expected and desired is a happy ideal transmigration, and perhaps many of them; and the chief felicity of the Hindu is that no particular estate is prescribed. While the Christian is promised a heaven to which the natural heart does not aspire, the Hindu may imagine and prefigure his own heaven. His next life may be as carnal as the celestial hunting-ground of the Indian or the promised paradise of the Moslem. It may be only the air-castle of a day-dreamer. There is no moral transformation. There is no expulsive power of a new and higher aspiration. Old things have not passed away; nothing has become new.
But the grace of God in Christ claims to work an entire change in the desires and aspirations of the heart by the power of the Holy Ghost. Paul found the men of Ephesus highly civilized in a sense, but "dead in trespasses and sins," "walking according to the course of this world, and having their conversation in the lusts of the flesh." But God by His Spirit so "quickened" them that they were able to understand and appreciate one of the most spiritual of all his Epistles. He addressed them as "new creatures," as God's "workmanship," "created in Christ Jesus unto good works."
As has already been noticed, all theories of moral transformation found in heathen systems require time. The process is carried on by intensive and long-continued thought, or by gradual accumulations of merit. Only the Buddha was enlightened per sallum, so to speak. And quite in accord with this view are those modern forms of materialism which maintain that mental and moral habits consist in gradual impressions made in the molecules of the nerve-tissues—that these impressions come at length to determine our acts without the necessity of either purpose or conscious recognition, and that only when right action becomes thus involuntary can character strictly be said to exist. But such theories certainly do not harmonize with the known facts of Christian conversion already alluded to. We do not refuse to recognize a certain degree of truth hidden in these speculations. We are aware that continued thought or emotion promotes a certain habit, and that in the Christian life such habit becomes an element of strength. We also admit that high and pure thought and emotion stamp themselves at length upon our physical nature, and appear in the very expression of the countenance, but when we look for the transforming impulse that can begin and sustain such habitual exercises in spite of the natural sinfulness and corruption which all systems admit, we find it only in the Christian doctrine of the new birth by the power of the Holy Ghost.
On these two doctrines of a Divine Vicarious Sacrifice and of the transforming power of a Divine Spirit we might rest our case. It should be sufficient to show, first, that Christianity alone provides a divine salvation in which God is made sin for us; and second, that its power alone, though objective, works in us the only effectual subjective transformation by a direct influence from on high. But there are many other points of contrast in which the transcendent character of Christianity appears.
First, an important differential lies in the completeness of the Divine personality of Jesus. Buddhism, Confucianism, and Mohammedanism, were strongly supported by the personality of their founders. We also cheerfully accord to such men as Socrates and Plato great personal influence. They have impressed themselves upon the millions of mankind more deeply than statesmen, or potentates, or conquerors; but not one of these presents to us a complete and rounded character, judged even from a human stand-point. Mohammed utterly failed on the ethical side. His life was so marred by coarse sensuality, weak effeminacy, heartless cruelty, unblushing hypocrisy, and heaven-defying blasphemy, that but for his stupendous achievements, and his sublime and persistent self-assertion, he would long since have been buried beneath the contempt of mankind. Confucius appears to have been above reproach in morals, and that amid universal profligacy; but he was cold in temperament, unsympathetic, and slavishly utilitarian in his teachings. His ethics lacked symmetry and just proportion. The five relations which constituted his ethico-political system were everything. They were made the basis of inexorable social customs which sacrificed some of the tenderest and noblest promptings of the human heart. Confucius mourned the death of his mother, for filial respect was a part of his system, but for his dying wife there is no evidence of grief or regret, and when his son mourned the death of his wife the philosopher reproved him. In all things he reasoned upward toward the throne; his grand aim was to build up an ideal state. He therefore magnified reverence for parents and all ancestors even to the verge of idolatry, but he utterly failed in that symmetry in which Paul makes the duties of parents and children mutual. Under his system a father might exercise his caprice almost to the power of life or death, and a Chinese mother-in-law is proverbially a tyrant. The beautiful sympathy of Christ, shown in blessing little children and in drawing lessons from their simple trust, would have been utterly out of place in the great sage of China. Confucius seems to have troubled himself but slightly, if at all, about the wants of the poor and the suffering; he taught no doctrine of self-sacrifice for the ignorant and the unworthy. His ideal of the "superior man" would have been tarnished by that contact with the lowly and degraded which was the glory of the Christ. And when his cotemporary, Laotze, taught the duty of doing good, even to enemies, he repudiated the principle as uncalled for in the relative duties which should govern mankind.
With respect to personality, probably a higher claim has been made for Gautama than for either of the characters who have been named. Sir Edwin Arnold, in his preface to the "Light of Asia," has assigned to him a virtual sinlessness, and such is doubtless the character which his followers would claim for him. But as a model for the great masses of men Gautama was very far from perfection. He had little of the genial sunlight of humanity; in every fibre of his nature he was a recluse; his views of life were pessimistic; he had no glad tidings for the sorrowing; no encouragement for the weary and the heavy laden. His agnosticism was ill adapted to the irrepressible wants of mankind, for they must place their trust in a higher power, real or imagined. But while he cast a cloud over the being of God he drove his despairing countrymen to the worship of serpents and evil spirits. In Ceylon, which is par eminence an orthodox Buddhist country, ninety per cent. of the population are said to be devil worshippers, and the devil jugglers are patronized even by the Buddhist monks. As the philosophy of Gautama was above the comprehension of the common people, so his example was also above their reach. It utterly lacked the element of trust, and involved the very destruction of society. To "wander apart like a rhinoceros" and "be silent as a broken gong" might be practicable for a chosen few, if only self were to be considered, but silence and isolation are not worthy ideals in a world of mutual dependence and where all life's blessings are enhanced by the ministries of the strong to the necessities of the weak. Infinitely higher was the example of Him who said, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work;" and who accordingly exhorted his disciples to work while the day lasts. Christ prayed not that they should be taken out of the world, but that they should be kept from the evil.
Again the Buddha's life furnished but a poor example in the domestic duties. His abandonment of his wife and child cannot be justified upon any sound theory of life. Whatever may be said of the merits of celibacy in those who are under no marriage vows, the abandonment of sacred relations once formed must be considered a crime against all society. As Mohammed's example of impurity has cast a blight over all Moslem lands, so Gautama's withdrawal from his home has borne, and is still bearing, its evil fruit. In Burmah it is common for a Buddhist who desires a change of wives to abandon his family for the sacred life of a monastery, where, if he remains but a single month, he sunders the old relation and is at liberty to form a new one. Good men are disgusted, but there is the example of "the Blessed One!" It will be admitted that in comparison with Hinduism the Buddhist ethics advanced woman to a higher social condition, but when modern apologists compare Gautama with Christ there are many contrasts which cannot be disguised.
In some respects Socrates stands highest among great philosophers. Mohammed's career cost him nothing but gained for him everything that man's earthly nature could desire. Gautama made only a temporary sacrifice; he changed lower indulgences for honor and renown, and died at a ripe old age surrounded by loving friends. But Socrates resolutely and calmly suffered martyrdom for his principles. The sublime dignity and self-control of his dying hours will never cease to win the admiration of mankind; yet Socrates was by no means a complete character. He died unto himself merely. He left no gospel of peace to humanity. His influence, however pure, could not, and in fact did not, become a diffusive and transforming leaven, either in his own or in any subsequent generation. The late Matthew Arnold has said, "The radical difference between Jesus and Socrates is that such a conception as Paul's (conception of faith) would, if applied to Socrates, be out of place and ineffective. Socrates inspired boundless friendship and esteem, but the inspiration of reason and conscience is the one inspiration which comes from him and which impels us to live righteously as he did. A penetrating enthusiasm of love, sympathy, pity, adoration, reinforcing the inspiration of reason and duty does not belong to Socrates. With Jesus it is different. On this point it is needless to argue: history has proved. In the midst of errors the most prosaic, the most immoral, the most unscriptural, concerning God, Christ, and righteousness, the immense emotion of love and sympathy inspired by the person and character of Jesus has had to work almost by itself alone for righteousness, but it has worked wonders."
This tribute to the completeness and power of Christ's personality is calculated to remind one of a memorable chapter in the well-known work of the late Dr. Horace Bushnell, entitled, "Nature and the Supernatural." With a wonderful power it portrays Christ as rising above the plane of merely human characters—as belonging to no age or race or stage of civilization—as transcendent not in some of the virtues, but in them all—as never subject to prejudice, or the impulse of passion, never losing that perfect poise which it has been impossible for the greatest of men to achieve—as possessed of a mysterious magnetism which carried conviction to His hearers even when claiming to be one with the Infinite—as inspiring thousands with a love which has led them to give their lives for His cause.
I have often thought that one of the most striking evidences of the divine reality of the Christian faith is found in the reflection of Christ's personality in the character and life of the apostle Paul. No one can doubt that Paul was a real historic personage, that from having been a strict and influential Jew he became a follower of Jesus and gave himself to His service with a sublime devotion; that he sealed the sincerity of his belief by a life of marvellous self-denial. He had no motive for acting a false part at such cost; on the contrary, an unmistakable genuineness is stamped upon his whole career. How shall we explain that career? Where else in the world's history have we seen a gifted and experienced man, full of strong and repellant prejudices, so stamped and penetrated by the personality of another?
On what theory can we account for such a change in such a life, except that his own story of his conversion was strictly true, that he had felt in his inmost soul a power so overwhelming as to sweep away his prejudices, humble his pride, arm him against the derision of his former friends, and prepare him for inevitable persecution and for the martyr death of which he was forewarned? So vivid were his impressions of this divine personality that it seemed almost to absorb his own. Christ, though He had ascended, was still with him as a living presence. All his inspiration, all his strength came from Him. His plans and purposes centred in his Divine Master, and his only ambition was to be found well-pleasing in his sight. He saw all types and prophecies fulfilled in Him as the Son of God, the fulness of His glory, and the express image of His person. Paul never indulged in any similes by which to express the glory of heaven; it was enough that we should be like Christ and be with Him where He is.
The writings of all the apostles differ from the books of other religions in the fact that their doctrines, precepts, and exhortations are so centred in their divine Teacher and Saviour. Buddha's disciples continued to quote their Master, but Buddha was dead. Theoretically not even his immortal soul survived. He had declared that when his bodily life should cease there would be nothing left of which it could be said "I am."
But to the vivid and realizing faith of Christ's followers He is still their living Head, their Intercessor, their Guide. His resurrection is the warrant of their future life. He has gone before and will come again to receive His own. Christianity is Christ: all believers are members of His mystic body: the Church is His bride. He is the Alpha and the Omega of the world's history. In the contemplation of His personality as the chief among ten thousand His people are changed into His image as from glory to glory. The ground of salvation in Christianity is not in a church, nor a body of doctrines, not even in the teachings of the Master: it is in Christ Himself as a humiliated sacrifice and a triumphant Saviour.
Second, the religion of the Bible differs from every other in its completeness and scope—its adaptation to all the duties and experiences of life and to all races and all conditions of men. It alone is able to meet all the deep and manifold wants of mankind. Hardwick has very aptly pointed out a contrast in this respect between the faith of Abraham and that of the early Indo-Aryan chiefs as portrayed in the Rig Veda. The pressing wants of humanity necessitate a faith that is of the nature of a heartfelt trust. No other can be regarded as strictly religious. Now Abraham's faith was something more than a speculation or a creed. It was an all-embracing confidence in God. He had an abiding sense of His presence and he confided in Him as his constant guide, defender, and friend. His family, his flocks, his relations to the hostile tribes who surrounded him, the promised possession of the land to which he journeyed—all these were matters which he left in the hands of an unseen but ever-faithful friend. His was a practical faith—a real and complete venture, and it involved gratitude and loyalty and love. Abraham's childhood had been spent in the home of an idolatrous father; for Shemite as well as Aryan had departed from the worship of the true God. In Chaldea, as in India, men had come to worship the sun and moon and the forces of nature. But while the Hindu wandered ever farther away from Jehovah, Abraham restored the faith which his ancestors had lost. He had no recourse to Indra or Varuna, he sought no help from devas or departed spirits. He looked to God alone, for he had heard a voice saying, "I am the Almighty God, walk before me and be thou perfect." Under the inspiration of such a summons Abraham became "the father of the faithful." He was the representative and exemplar of real and practical faith, not only to the Hebrew race but to all mankind. He staked his all upon a promise which he regarded as divine and therefore sure. He believed in the Lord and He counted it to him for righteousness. He left home and country and ventured among hostile tribes in an assured confidence that he should gain a possession, though empty-handed, and a countless posterity, though yet childless, and that all this would be granted him not for his own glory, but that all nations might be blest in him. And this subordination of self and this uplifting of his soul to a sublime hope rendered him patient when fulfilment seemed postponed, and strong against temptation when spoils and emoluments were offered him; for in some sense, vague perhaps, he foresaw a Messiah and a Kingdom of Righteousness, and he was girded with confidence to the last, though he died without the sight.
We look in vain for anything to be compared with this in the Vedic literature, still less in that of the period of Brahmanical sacerdotalism, or in the still later speculations of the philosophic schools. Real Hinduism is wanting in the element of trust. Its only faith is a belief, a theory, a speculation. It receives nothing and expects nothing as a free gift of God. Sacrificial rites survived in the early Vedic period, but they had lost all prophetic significance. They terminated in themselves and rested upon their own value. There was no remembered promise and no expectation of any specific fulfilment. The Hindu gained simply what he bought with his merit or his offerings, and he had no greater sense of gratitude to deity than to the tradesman of whom he made a purchase in the bazaar. There are, indeed, traces in some of the earliest Vedic hymns of a feeling of dependence upon superior powers, yet the Brahmanical priesthood taught men that he who was rich enough to offer a sacrifice of a hundred horses might bankrupt heaven, and by his simple right of purchase even rob Indra of his throne. As stated in a previous lecture, so far was this system from "the faith which works by love" that even demons, by costly sacrifices might dispute the supremacy of the universe.
There is an equally significant contrast between the legislation of Moses and that of Manu. The life and experience of the former are interwoven with his statutes. They are illustrated with references to actual events in the history of the people. The blessings, the trials, the punishments, the victories, the defeats of Israel enter into the texture of the whole Mosaic record: it is full of sympathetic feeling; it takes hold on the actual life of men and therefore is able to reform and elevate them. It brings not only Moses, but Jehovah Himself into personal sympathy with the people. But Manu presents statutes only. Many of these are wholesome as laws, but they are destitute of tenderness or compassion. No indication is given of the author's own experience, and we are left in doubt whether there were not many authors to whom the general name of Manu was applied. There is no inculcation of gratitude and love to God, or any hint of His love to men. No prayer, no song, no confession of dependence, no tribute of praise, no record of trembling, yet trustful, experience. It is all cold, lifeless precept and prohibition, with threats of punishment here and hereafter. Religious exaction is most strict, but there are few religious privileges except for Brahmans, and these they possess by divine birthright. No particular favor is asked from any being in heaven or on earth.
With respect to this same element of personal trust, and real, heartfelt experience, contrast David also with any author whose name is given in Hindu literature. He was full of humanity, large-hearted, loving, grateful, and though stained by sin, yet he was so penitent and humble and tender that he was said to be a man after God's own heart. He was a successful warrior and a great king, but he held all his honor and his power as a divine gift and for the Divine glory. Compare the 119th Psalm with the Upanishads, or with any of the six schools of philosophy. The one deals with moral precepts and spiritual aspirations, all the others with subtle theories of creation or problems of the universe. The one is the outflowing of joyous experience found in obedience to God's moral law, and only out of the heart could such a psalm have been written. The law of God had become not a barrier or a hamper, but a delight. Evidently David had found a religion which filled every avenue and met every want of his whole being.
Again, only the religion of Christ brings man into his proper relation of penitence and humility before God. It is necessary to the very conception of reconciliation to a higher and purer being that wrong-doing shall be confessed. All the leading faiths of the world have traditions of the fall of man from a higher and holier estate, and most of them—notably Hinduism, Buddhism, ancient Druidism, and the Druse religion of Mount Lebanon—declare that the fall was the result of pride and rebellion of spirit. And of necessity the wrong, if it cannot be undone, must at least be confessed. Self-justification is perpetuation. The offender must lay aside his false estimate of self and admit the justice whose claims he has violated. Even in the ordinary intercourse of men this principle is universally recognized. There can be no reconciliation without either actual reparation or at least a frank acknowledgment. Governmental pardon always implies repentance and promised reform, and between individuals a due concession to violated principle is deemed the dictate of the truest honor. How can there be reconciliation to God, then, without repentance and humiliation? Of what value can heathen asceticism and merit-making be while the heart is still barred and buttressed with self-righteousness? The longer a man approaches the Holiness of Deity with the offerings of his own self-consequence the greater does the enormity of his offence become and the wider the breach which he attempts to close.
Even if he could render a perfect obedience and service for the future, he could never overtake the old unsettled score. The prodigal cannot recover the squandered estate or wipe out the record of folly and sin, and if there be no resource of free remission on the one hand, and no deep and genuine repentance on the other, there can be no possible adjustment. The universal judgment and conscience of men so decide. Philosophers may present this method and that of moral culture and assimilation to the character of the Infinite, but practically all men will approve the philosophy taught in Christ's touching parable of the Prodigal Son. The beauty, the force, the propriety of its principles strike the human understanding, whether of the sage or of the savage, like a flash of sunlight, and no human heart can fail to be touched by its lessons. Yet where in all the wide waste of heathen faiths or philosophies is there anything which even remotely resembles the story of the Prodigal? Where is the system in which such an incident and such a lesson would not be wholly out of place?
In that ancient book of the Egyptian religion known as "The Book of the Dead," the souls of the departed when arraigned before the throne of Osiris are represented as all joining in one refrain of self-exculpation, uttering such pleas as these: "I have not offended or caused others to offend." "I have not snared ducks illegally on the Nile." "I have not used false weights or measures." "I have not defrauded my neighbor by unjustly opening the sluices upon my own land!" Any sense of the inward character of sin or any conception of wrong attitudes of mind or heart toward God is utterly wanting. It is simply the plea of "not guilty," which even the most hardened culprit may make in court. In one of the Vedic hymns to Varuna there is something which looks like confession of sin, but it really ends in palliation. "It was not our doing, O Varuna, it was necessity; an intoxicating draught, passion, dice, thoughtlessness. The old is there to mislead the young. Even sleep brings unrighteousness." And the remission sought for is not one involving a change of character but only release from an external bond. "Absolve us from the sins of our fathers and from those which we committed with our own bodies. Release Vasishtha, O King, like a thief who has feasted on stolen oxen. Release him like a calf from the rope."
In the Penitential Psalms of the ancient Akkadians, who inhabited Northern Assyria in the times of Abraham, and who may have retained something of that true faith from which Abraham's father had declined, we find a nearer approach to true penitence, but that also lacks the inner sense of sin and seeks merely an exemption from punishments.
Only in the Old and New Testaments is sin recognized as of the nature of personal guilt. Accordingly, Christianity alone recognizes the fact that right thoughts and motives and a worthy character are the gifts of God. Cicero has truly remarked that men justly thank God for external blessings, but never for virtue, or talent, or character. All that is regarded as their own. And such is the conceit of human self-righteousness in all man-made religions, whether Hindu or Greek, ancient or modern. Philosophy is in its very nature haughty and aristocratic. Even Plato betrays this element. It is only the Christian apostle that is heard to say, with heartfelt emotion, "By the grace of God I am what I am." The Buddha declared that he recognized no being in any world to whom he owed any special reverence; and especially in his later years, when his disciples had come to look upon him as in a sense divine, he regarded himself as the highest of all intelligences on the earth or in the various heavens. Such assumptions in both Buddha and Confucius will explain the fact that for ages both have been virtually worshipped. "At fifteen," said Confucius, "I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty I stood firm. At forty I had no doubt. At fifty I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy I could follow what my heart desired without transgressing what was right." Yet neither of these great teachers claimed to be a divine Saviour. They were simply exemplars; their self-righteousness was supposed to be attainable by all.
I cannot do better in this connection than point out a striking contrast in the recorded experiences of two well-known historic characters. Islam honors David, King of Israel, and accords him a place among its accredited prophets. Both David and Mohammed were guilty of adultery under circumstances of peculiar aggravation. Mohammed covered his offence by a blasphemous pretence of special revelations from God, justifying his crime and chiding him for such qualms of conscience as he had. David lay in dust and ashes while he bemoaned not only the consequences of his sin and the breach of justice toward his neighbor, but also the deep spiritual offence of his act. "Against Thee, and Thee only, O God, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight." Profoundest penitence on the one hand and Heaven-daring blasphemy on the other, the Bible and the Koran being witnesses!
Another marked distinction is seen in the moral purity of the Christian Scriptures as contrasted with the so-called sacred books of all other religions. That which is simply human will naturally be expected to show the moral taint of lapsed humanity. The waters cannot rise higher than the fountain-head, nor can one gather figs from thistles. In our social intercourse with men we sooner or later find out their true moral level. And so in what is written, the exact grade of the author will surely appear. And it is by this very test that we can with tolerable accuracy distinguish the human from the divine in religious records. It is not difficult to determine what is from heaven and what is of the earth.
No enlightened reader of Greek mythology can proceed far without discovering that he is dealing with the prurient and often lascivious imaginings of semi-barbarous poets. He finds the poetry and the art of Greece both reflecting the character of a passionate people, bred under a southern sun and in an extremely sensuous age. If he ventures into the lowest depths of the popular religious literature of Greece or Rome, or ancient Egypt or Phoenicia, he finds unspeakable vice enshrined among the mysteries of religion, and corruptions which an age of refinement refuses to translate or depict abound on every hand. Or apply the same test to the literature of Hinduism, even in its earliest and purest stages. The sacred Vedas, which are supposed to have been breathed into the souls of ancient rishis by direct divine effluence, are tainted here and there by debasing human elements, and that not incidentally but as the very soul of the Hindu system. For example, when the Vedic hymns promise as future rewards the lowest sensual indulgences none can doubt the earthly source of their inspiration. As for the Upanishads, which are regarded as Sruti or inspired, Professor Max Müller, in his Introduction to the first volume of "The Sacred Books of the East," virtually admits the impropriety of translating them for English readers without expurgation. Mr. Ram Chandra Bose, of Lucknow, declares himself unable, for the same reason, to give a full and unabridged account of the ancient Hindu sacrifices. The later literatures of the Puranas and the Tantras are lower still. Anti-Christian Orientalists have so generally conveyed the popular impression that their culled and expurgated translations were fair representations of Hindu literature that Wilson finally felt called upon in the interest of truth and honesty to lift the veil from some of the later revelations of the Puranas, and it is sufficient to say that the Greek mythology is fairly outdone by the alleged and repeated escapades of the chief Hindu deities.
The traditions of all ancient religions found on either hemisphere, and the usages observed among savage tribes of to-day all conform to the same low moral gauge. All are as deplorably human as the degraded peoples who devised them. In Mexico and Peru, as well as in Egypt and in Babylonia, base human passion was mingled with the highest teachings of religion. Buddhism has generally been considered an exception to this general rule, and it will be confessed that its influence has been vastly higher than that of the old Hinduism, or the religions of Canaan, or Greece, or Rome, and immeasurably higher in morals than that of Islam; yet even Buddhism has been colored by its European advocates with far too roseate a hue. Sir Edwin Arnold was not the first biographer of Gautama to glorify incidentally the seductive influences of his Indian harem, and to leave on too many minds the impression that, after all, the luxurious palace of Sidartha was more attractive than the beggars' bowl of the enlightened "Tathagata." The Bishop of Colombo, in an able article on Buddhism, arraigns the apologetic translators of Buddhistic literature for having given to the world an altogether erroneous impression of the moral purity of the Sacred Books of Ceylon.
The vaunted claim that the early Buddhist records, and especially the early rock inscriptions found in caves, are pure, whatever corruptions may have crept into more modern manuscripts, is well met by letters from a recent traveller, which speak of certain Buddhist inscriptions so questionable in character that they cannot be translated or described.
It is scarcely necessary for me to speak of the base appeal to man's low passions found in the Koran. It is only necessary to trace its unmistakable influence in the moral degeneracy of Mohammedan populations in all lands and all ages—destroying the sacredness of the home, degrading woman, engendering unnatural vices, and poisoning all society from generation to generation. It is indeed a hard task for its apologists, by any kind of literary veneering to cover the moral deformity and the blasphemous wickedness which, side by side with acknowledged excellences, mar the pages of the Koran. The soiled finger-marks of the sensual Arab everywhere defile them. Like the blood of Banquo, they defy all ocean's waters to wash them out. It was easy enough for Mohammed to copy many exalted truths from Judaism and Christianity, and no candid mind will deny that there are many noble precepts in the Koran; but after all has been said, its ruling spirit is base. Even its promised heaven is demoralizing. It is characteristically a human book, and very low in the ethical scale at that.
Let us now turn to the Bible; let us remember that the Old Testament represents those early centuries when the people of Israel were surrounded by the corruptions of Baal worship, which transcended the grovelling wickedness of all other heathen systems, ancient or modern. Let us bear in mind the kind of training which the nation had received amid the corruptions of Egypt, all rendered more effective for evil by their degrading bondage; and with all these disadvantages in view, let us search everywhere, from Genesis to Malachi, and see if there be one prurient utterance, one sanction for, or even connivance at, impurity in all those records, written by men in different lands and ages, men representing all social grades, all vocations in life, and chosen from among all varieties of association. Who will deny that these men appear to have been raised by some unaccountable power to a common level of moral purity which was above their age, their social standards, their natural impulses, or any of the highest human influences which could have been exerted upon them?
They were often called to deal plainly with moral evils. They record instances of grievous dereliction, in some cases the writers were themselves the offenders. But there is always reproof. The story always has a salutary moral. Sin is always shown to be a losing game, a sowing to the wind and a reaping of the whirlwind. It is either followed by severe judgments, or it is repented of with a contrition which bows even a great monarch in dust and ashes.
The books of the New Testament were also written in an age of great moral corruption. Judaism was virtually dead; the current religion in the Holy City was "a sad perversion of the truth." Hypocrisy sat in high places when John Baptist came with his protest and his rebukes. The Herods, who held the sceptres of provincial authority, were either base time-servers, or worse, they were monsters of lust and depravity. In the far-off capitals of the dominant heathen races vice had attained its full fruitage and was already going to seed and consequent decay. Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, and Antioch were steeped in iniquity, while the emperors who wielded the sceptre of the Roman empire were hastening the ruin of the existing civilization. It was in such an age and amid such surroundings that the Gospels and the Epistles came forth as the lotus springs, pure and radiant from the foul and fetid quagmire. What could have produced them? The widely accepted rule that religions are the products of their environments is surely at fault here. Neither in the natural impulses of a dozen Judean fishermen and peasants, nor in the bigoted breast of Saul of Tarsus, could these unique and sublime conceptions have found their genesis. They are manifestly divine. How exalted is the portraiture of the Christ! What human skill could have depicted a character which no ideal of our best modern culture can equal?
In all the New Testament there are none but the highest and purest ethical teachings, and even the most poetical descriptions of heaven are free from any faintest tinge of human folly. The Apocalypse is full of images which appeal to the senses, but there is nothing which does not minister to the most rigid purity; while the representations which Paul makes of eternal felicity are strictly and conspicuously spiritual and elevating. Everywhere, from Matthew to Revelations, it is the pure in heart who shall see God, and the inducement held out is to be pure because He is pure. And although the gift of eternal life is a free gift, yet it affords no excuse for laxity. The sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is a remonstrance against all presumption in those that are "under grace." "Reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Let not sin therefore rule in your mortal body that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, but yield yourselves unto God as those that are alive from the dead." The religion of the New Testament is a spiritual religion, the resurrection body is a spiritual body; heaven is not an Indian hunting-ground, nor a Vikings Valhalla of shield-clad warriors, nor a Moslem harem. It is a spiritual abode, and its companionships are with God and the Lamb, with the church of the first-born and of saints made perfect. Now, all that we can say of these lofty and pure conceptions is that flesh and blood never revealed them. They are divine. They are out of the range of our native humanity; they are not the things that human nature desires, and it is only by the high culture of transforming grace that human aspirations are raised to their level.
In conclusion, there are many points in which Christianity asserts its unique supremacy over all other systems of which there is time but for the briefest mention. It presents to man the only cultus which can have universal adaptation. Christ only, belongs to all ages and all races. Buddha is but an Asiatic, Mohammed is an Arab and belongs only to the East. The religion or philosophy of Confucius has never found adaptation to any but Mongolian races; his social and political pyramid would crumble in contact with republican institutions. On the other hand, the religion of Christ is not only adapted to all races, but it aims at their union in one great brotherhood. Again, Christianity alone presents the true relation between Divine help and human effort. It does not invest marred and crippled human nature with a false and impossible independence, neither does it crush it. Whenever heathen systems have taught a salvation by faith they have lost sight of moral obligation. Weitbrecht and others state this as a fact with the Hindu doctrine of Bakti (faith) adopted in the later centuries; De Quatrefages asserts the same of the Tahitans. But the faith of the New Testament everywhere supposes a Divine and effectual co-operation. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you to will and to do of His good pleasure." It bids men serve not as hirelings, but as sons and heirs; it stimulates hope without engendering pride; it administers discipline, but with a father's love; it teaches that trials are not judgments, but wholesome lessons. Of all religions it alone inculcates a rational and consoling doctrine of Providence. It declares that to the righteous death is not destruction, but a sleep in peace and hope. It bids the Christian lay off his cares and worries—in all things making his requests known unto God with thanksgivings; and yet it enjoins him not to rest in sloth, but to aspire after all that is pure and true and honorable and lovely and of good report in human life and conduct. It saves him from sin not by the stifling and atrophy of any God-given power, but by the expulsive influence of new affections; it bids him be pure even as God is pure.
There is in the brief epistle of Paul to Titus a passage which in a single sentence sets forth the way of salvation in its fulness. It traces redemption to the grace of God, and it makes it a free provision for all men; yet it insists upon carefulness and sobriety. Salvation is shown to begin now in the laying aside of all sin and the living of a godly life. Meanwhile it cheers the soul with expectation that Christ shall dwell with the redeemed in triumph, as He once came in humiliation, and it keeps ever in mind the great truth that His mission is not merely to secure for man future exemptions and possessions, but to build up character—character that shall continue to rise and expand forever.
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.
|Written By Frank F. Ellinwood|
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