Sidor som bilder

of belief is yet to be evolved from the world of science, the experience of history, and the nature of man.

If this be so, then our churches and our pulpits are a superfluity; or worse, they are a hinderance to the progress of true religion. If Christianity is already antiquated, then our schools of theology are a clog upon thought, since both their systems and their text-book are of the past. If human nature is to develop a higher, better faith than that of the Bible, then our missions will but delay the advancement of pagan nations, by imposing upon them doctrines and beliefs which human science and society have outgrown, and which they, in turn, must lay aside in order to a real and substantial progress. Why do, at so much pains and cost, that which philosophy and experience teach us must be undone, if we would accomplish the very end at which we aim the permanent improvement of mankind in knowledge and the arts of life, in social condition and in moral character?

The question, then, whether Christianity was intended to be, and is adapted to be, the religion of mankind in all 'ages, is not a theoretical speculation, but a vital, practical question, a question that should be fairly tested by the new lights of physical and social science, as well as by the older lights of history and experience. To establish the claim of Christianity to a universal and permanent domination in the sphere of religion, we must prove not only that in its origin it was a revelation from God, but also that it was given as a finality, and for universal diffusion. The Jewish ritual was equally of divine origin; yet this was of limited obligation, and was designed to be of limited duration. And it were conceivable that Christianity, though a revelation from God, could, like Judaism, have had some provisional or transient purpose in the progress of the race, leaving to after-times the full development of man through the discoveries of reason or by new revelations. But the peculiarity of Christianity is, that in its origin it was, in no manner, an outgrowth of its age, while in its spirit, its doctrine, its methods, and its scope, it is equally adapted to all ages.

I. Christianity was not a natural development of human thought, but an incoming of divine thought and love upon the plane of our nature.

Christianity derived nothing either of doctrine, of precept, or of ritual from any system of philosophy or of religion outside of the land of Judea. Its founder never passed beyond the limits of his native Syria; he attended no school of secular learning; and his life at Nazareth was so remote from such means of education as his native country afforded, that his townsmen expressed their astonishment at his wisdom, knowing that he had had none of the advantages of the schools. Jesus of Nazareth never came under the influence of the Grecian philosophy. He did not grow up in an atmosphere of Roman culture. There is not a word of his recorded utterances that would suggest that he had ever read a line of Plato or of Aristotle, or had heard the then fresh fame of Cicero. He knows no book but the Hebrew scriptures; quotes no other as an authority for his sayings; mentions no name outside the line of Jewish history, and no opinion outside the pale of Jewish thought; but gives forth his own doctrine in simple, independent aphorisms, and in brief parables and discourses, without reference to any school of philosophy or system of theology in preceding ages, or then extant. Nor can the doctrines and precepts of Christ be traced by affinity or assimilation to any such school or system of antiquity. He borrowed nothing from his own age, nor from any prior age; and neither himself nor his religion was an outgrowth of his times; but both were a protest against the world as it then stood toward God.

With one exception, his apostles learned all they knew directly from the master. "Unlearned and ignorant men" was the designation given them by the Sanhedrim. Unskilled in languages, unversed in literature, knowing only that which Christ had taught them; they borrowed nothing from their age. Paul, the exceptional case, while he knew the drift of the Greek philosophy, and was personally

familiar with the religious systems of his time, knew these but to condemn them as false, corrupt, and destructive. In the very centres of philosophy and art, he knew nothing save Jesus Christ, and him crucified, though " to the Greeks the preaching of the cross was foolishness." Though an occasional resemblance may be traced between the ethical principles and maxims of Seneca and those of Paulenough to establish an identity between natural and revealed religion; yet the grand doctrines of Paul's epistles concerning God's plan of restoration for a sinful race can be traced to no pagan writer of antiquity. So far from being a natural outgrowth of the times, Christianity was in oppugnation to the times, and the times were everywhere hostile to Christians. Beginning as a small minority among the Jews, they were hated and persecuted by their own nation. Then exiles scattered abroad, they were at first despised as weak enthusiasts, then persecuted as enemies of the state and of the gods. Christianity originating in a narrow, subjugated province, among a people unrecognized in the sphere of philosophy and of literary culture, originating independently of all foreign systems of philosophy and religion, won its way against the contempt of genius and learning, against the strength of social customs and religious usages, against popular superstitions, the preju dices of caste and race, and the persecutions of the civil power throughout the whole world. It encountered the keen intellectual weapons of a Celsus and a Julian, as well as the sharpness and pains of persecution. There is nothing either in its doctrines, in its spirit, or in its history to mark it as a natural outgrowth of its age, or a product of human nature in any age. Tacitus, the most intelligent and candid pagan historian of that period, has recorded how des picable and how hated was this new superstition of the despised and hated race of Jews.

There was, indeed, in the moral needs and failures of antiquity, in the decay of the old philosophies and religions, a silent, unconscious preparation of the world for the pure

and sublime teachings and the remedial influences of Christianity; but the adaptation of Christianity to its age no more argues its natural outgrowth from that age, than the adaptation of the Sanitary Commission to the wants and the wounds of our soldiers argues that the Commission is a natural outgrowth of the spirit of war; no more than the adaptation of free institutions to recover the South from the material waste and the social dissolution of war argues that free institutions are the natural outgrowth of the system that has brought upon her these vast and terrible woes. The horrors of war occasioned the demand for that healing Commission which is a development, not of the age, but of the spirit of Christianity. The wastes of war have unveiled to us the curse of slavery, and the need of those remedial institutions which are the outgrowth of the spirit of freedom. So the acceptance of Christianity was, in some sense, "a symptom of the wants and aspirations struggling beneath the surface of the age." But let us not confound occasion with origin, nor an adaptation to heal with an outgrowth from the disease.

In one respect Christianity was an outgrowth, a development from that which had gone before. But this only in the line of the Hebrew scriptures and the Jewish ritual. It was the unveiling of the mystery that lay hidden under those ancient prophecies, within those venerable forms. It was the revelation of that great plan which was intimated to man directly upon his fall, yet which, in the manner of it, had been secret since the world began, whereby man should be restored to the likeness and the fellowship of God, and the earth should be renewed as the garden of the Lord. The mystery of ages, "How shall man be just with God," became a manifestation "through the preaching of Jesus Christ," according to "the scriptures of the proph ets." And this doctrinal unity of the scriptures, in the great facts of the holiness and the justice of God in his moral government over the world, of the apostasy and the condemnation of mankind, and of the reunion of man with

God through the divine sacrifice for man's redemption; this unity of thought in the narrow line of the Hebrew scriptures, apart from all the philosophies and religions of the world; unity in conceptions so just, so true, so unequalled, so sublime; a unity that stands unveiled in Christ from germ to stalk and to the crowning flower,-this argues not a spontaneous outgrowth from the soil of nature, but a special planting by the hand of God.

That calm and comprehensive historian of the Roman Empire, Mr. Merivale, speaking from the point of view of historical criticism, and contrasting the genius of Christianity with that of antecedent and contemporary faiths, shows how foreign from any and all of these was the conception and origin of the new belief: "The old beliefs of the primitive ages, which had done something at least to temper pros perity and sweeten the ills of life, had perished to a poisonous core in a shrivelled husk. The science of ethics was apparently exhausted. It had finished its career in blank disappointment, and there was no faith or courage to commence it afresh. Alexander wept on the margin of the eastern ocean that there were no more lands to conquer; Caesar, from the farthest bourn of philosophic speculation, may have confessed with a sigh that within the visible horizon of human intuitions there were no more provinces for reason to invade. The Great Disposer had yet another leaf to turn in the book of his manifold dispensations; but the rise and progress of a new religion, with vigor to control the jarring prejudices of nations and classes, asserting supernatural facts, and claiming divine authority, appealing with equal boldness on the one hand to history, on the other to conscience, shaping an outward creed, and revealing inward ideas, the law of the simple and the science of the wise, exalting obedience in the place of ambition, and expanding patriotism into philanthropy, was the last offspring of the womb of time that Caesar could have imagined, or Cicero have ventured to anticipate." 1

1 History of the Romans under the Empire, Vol. II. pp. 427, 428. VOL. XXII. No. 86.


« FöregåendeFortsätt »