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time and the manner of it, had been silently unfolding since the world began.1 There, he speaks of himself as having received from Christ an apostleship of this gospel "among all nations"; here, again, he describes the gospel as appointed "to be made known to all nations, by commandment of the everlasting God." And alike in the opening of the epistle and at its close, to secure a universal "obedience to the faith," as herein declared, is the purpose of God in "giving commandment" for the propagation of the gospel. And this was the very formula by which our Lord defined the object, the method, and the duration of the Christian ministry. "Go make all nations my disciples; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."
Clearly, then, in the intention of its founder, and in the conception of its chief expounder and propagandist, the apostle Paul, Christianity, contemplated as an entire system. of religious faith, unfolded with historical unity in the Bible, was designed to be the permanent, the universal, and the only religion of mankind; complete as a revelation of divine truth, and as the manifestation of the divine life and love; adequate to all the wants and all the phases of humanity, and adapted to all the coming ages of the world.
Whatever theory of Christ and Christianity men may adopt; however widely they may differ in their estimate of the facts of the gospel, or in their interpretation of its doctrines; whatever place they may assign to Christianity among the elements of our civilization; whatever value they may give it as a system of truth, or a power for social and moral progress; whether they accept it as a divine revelation authenticated by miracles, or construe it into a myth of purely human invention- there can be no question as to the claim of Christianity itself to have come from God to men, and to be, by divine appointment, the one, sufficient, 1 Compare 1 Pet. i. 10-13.
authoritative, and unchanging system of faith and of morals, and the only hope of the world with respect to an enlight ened, spiritual, and saving progress. All this is claimed by him who said of himself that he "came into the world to bear witness unto the truth"; that he is "the way, the truth, and the life"; that he is "the light of the world," and that "the world must be saved through him"; and who said concerning the scriptures that testify of him and his kingdom, "it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail." Completeness of adaptation to mankind, with a view to permanence of control in the sphere of morality and religion, and to universality of effect upon human society - this is written upon every page of the New Testament, from the announcement of the birth of Jesus as "a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Israel," to the commission of the apostles "to make known. the gospel unto all nations for their obedience to its faith," and onward, through all the recorded and the promised triumphs of Christianity, until "the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light" of the new and holy Jerusalem.1
Christianity, we repeat, in the intention of its Founder, is the complete and the final system of religious faith and practice for mankind; and the permanent, comprehensive, and universal agency for the moral advancement of the race. It is not one among religions; it is the religion. It is not one among agencies of moral reform and progress; it is the agency for constructing a true civilization. It is not one among systems of truth divinely accredited; it is the truth set forth by divine appointment to be everywhere received and obeyed.
But there has arisen of late years a social philosophy which treats all religions as the natural development of the human mind in successive stages of its progress, and which regards Christianity as simply a stage in that development; not a supernatural religion, ordained to be
universal and permanent, but a natural growth of its era, and destined in turn to give place to some higher product of philosophic thought.
Akin to this philosophy of social progress is the claim of some modern scientists, that their discoveries in nature antiquate the Bible as the crude product of an unscientific age, when mysteries were miracles, and the legends of superstition were accepted as supernatural facts. This form of disbelief has in it nothing of the rancor that marked the infidelity of the eighteenth century. It may be supercilious toward Christianity as a theological experiment that has had its day, or may affect to patronize it for certain ideas and principles worth retaining in the future of the race; but it does not denounce the Bible as wholesale imposture, or sneer at Christians as priest-ridden fools. Yet, because of this air of candor and superiority, which admits certain excellences in Christianity, but passes these to the credit of human nature, while it also claims that the world has outgrown the system whose virtues it retains, this form of disbelief challenges a more serious refutation than the old infidelity would now require.
It goes beyond Mr. Parker's distinction between "the transient and the permanent in Christianity," and affirms that Christianity was in its very nature transitory, and is now ready to vanish away; that the claim of an historical revelation contained in a book, must yield to the "original revelation of consciousness 1"; that "the interior spirit of any age is the spirit of God," and that the spirit of each age must appoint for it a "creed of its own;" that "the new religion of nature," in whose articles "revelation is the disclosure of truth to the active and simple reason," and
regeneration the bursting of the moral consciousness into flower" this "theism of nature," interpreted by science, and developed from the human soul, must become the faith of the future, in place of the supernaturalism that has ruled in the faith of the past.2
1 Miss Frances Power Cobbe, in "Broken Lights," p. 190.
Conceding to Christianity a place in the religious development of man, conceding that it was even an immeasurable advance upon foregoing religions, that it met certain needs of its time, and has accomplished vast good by its higher ethics, this new faith yet joins issue with it as a supernatural religion, introduced into the world by God for the permanent and universal governance of mankind. It seeks not to oppose Christianity by naked infidelity, nor by positive irreligion; but claims to advance upon the Bible by a more intellectual and more absolute conception of religion. Thus Comte, confounding, as French scepticism is apt to confound, the Church of the Middle Ages with Christianity, says of that theological polity, "no true philosopher will ever forget that it af forded the beneficent guardianship under which the formation and earliest development of modern societies took place; but it is equally incontestible that, for three centuries past, its influence among the most advanced nations has been essentially retrograde, notwithstanding some partial service." Hence he asserts of this organized Christianity, that a system which "could not hold its ground before the natural progress of intelligence and of society, can never again serve as a basis of social order"; and then going beyond the polity to doctrine, he adds that the ascendancy of the scientific spirit must hinder any real restoration of the theological spirit; that "religious doctrine has lost its moral prerogatives," and that morality must be systemized by the normal growth of human faculties and affections, "without religious intervention."
And Mr. Herbert Spencer, while he disowns Comte's Positivism as the ultimate philosophy, yet treats all religions, from the grossest Fetichism up to the most refined creed of Christianity, simply as "so many natural products of human nature"; and holds that "the religious creeds. through which mankind successively pass, are, during the eras in which they are severally held, the best that could
1 Comte, Positive Philosophy (American ed.), pp. 402, 404, 751, 771.
be held"; and that with the growth of humanity "the creed which each period evolves is one more in conformity with the needs of the time than the creed which preceded it." 1
"These various beliefs," says the same writer," are parts of the constituted order of things; and not accidental, but necessary parts. Seeing how one Seeing how one or other of them is everywhere present; is of perennial growth; and when cut down, develops in a form but slightly modified; we cannot avoid the inference that they are needful accompa niments of human life, severally fitted to the societies in which they are indigenous. From the highest point of view, we must recognize them as elements in that great evolution of which the beginning and end are beyond our knowledge or conception; as modes of manifestation of the Unknowable; and as having this for their warrant." 2
A late number of the Westminster Review speaks of the Christian faith as already falling into desuetude, through the law of progress in man's moral nature: "The crumbling decay and eventual downfall of a wide-spread faith and cultus, which have existed for centuries," is with it a foregone conclusion. It tells us that sceptical opinions now fall on the public mind "like sparks on tinder. They pervade literature and society like an atmosphere or a gas which no doors or windows will exclude." "Has man," asks the Review, "once for all, been provided, in any of the traditional creeds of Christendom, with something invariable and indestructible, which no progress can throw out of date, no discovery permanently injure, no change of circumstances render unsuited to society? These questions are now fairly put before the world, and must be answered one way or the other." 3 In a word, the sum of the Positive philosophy, as taught by its various schools, is that Christianity can by no means be accepted as a finality in religion, but that something in advance of this as a system
1 Essay on the Use of Anthropomorphism.
2 First Principles, p. 121.
3 April, 1864, pp. 184, 185.