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HEN a man comes out of a dark room into
the light, his eyes are dazzled, and he discerns all objects indistinctly, not because
there is not light enough, but because there is too much light. When I look back to the early effulgence of Christianity I see in that bright dawn a few figures, shadows of men like trees walking, and one form in the midst of them like unto the form of the Son of God. My eyes are dazzled by such a vision, and yet there appears at first little enough for the mind to dwell upon. The records are broken and fragmentary, the details somewhat meagre, and the authenticity in some parts thought by many to be more than doubtful.
Then I ask myself ‘Was Christianity nothing but a dream of the past? is it nothing but a sentiment in the present ? and is it nothing but a vague and futile aspiration for the future? Is there no body and no substance in it? Shall we never see anything but a golden mist settling over the first century of the Christian Era?' The heart, which has longings for something definite and tangible, wants to go up to the Lord, as it were, and touch the hands and the side, and be present at the dark hour in Gethsemane, and feel the crown of thorns, and watch the agony of the Cross, in order that it may be fixed and certified concerning the Son of man, and know in whom we have believed.
My brethren, “What is Christianity?' That is a question which many serious men are asking at the present day. I was talking not long ago to Mr. Chunder Sen, the great Indian reformer, and he said to me: “There are a great many people in India who want to convert me to Christianity, and I say to them, What is Christianity ? and none of them can tell me, or rather everyone tells me something different. I go to the Roman Catholic, and he says it is this; I go to the Protestant, he says it is that; and I go to the Dissenter, and he says it is quite another thing ; and each little sect says, 'We are Christians, we have the right Christianity, and all the others are wrong. So,' said Mr. Chunder Sen, ‘if I wanted to become a Christian I could not, because they all say, so many different things that I really don't know which of all these sects to take up with!'
Now there is a great deal of truth in this. We must have sadly departed from the simplicity which is in Christ—we must have somehow got entirely off the line, right away from the Sermon on the Mount, for instance. I don't think there was any doubt in the minds of those who heard that sermon as to what Christianity really meant, or what Christ really taught. They did not argue when they heard the words 'Blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled,' and
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God'; and those were the sort of words which drew thousands after Jesus, and made the common people very attentive to hear Him. The words did not sound vague ; they conveyed a definite meaning, quite definite enough for all practical purposes; and doubtless that meaning was the very essence of Christianity. How comes it, then, that we are asking now, to-day, what is Christianity ? That is a question which I shall try to answer for myself and for you this morning, leaving much unsaid, but trying to say nothing irrelevant or superfluous.
In the first place, the time has gone by for ever when it is possible for an educated person to declare that Christianity is true and every other religion is false. That is something like saying that Protestantism is true and Catholicism is false—a kind of half-sense, halfnonsense, and whole untruth. The time has come when Christianity must take its place in the history of the world amongst other religions, and when it must be recognised as a point and a turning-point, in the harmonious religious development of the race. It is our paramount duty to examine these questions and try to award to Christianity, and to the sublime central figure of the civilised world, not any unreal position of our own devising, but the position which, after a sober examination of the facts of history, will ultimately be found to belong to the Christian system, and to the Author and finisher of our faith. I will first try and deal with the character of Christ's teaching.
. 24. Many people say, “There was nothing new in the teaching of Christ; the world had heard it all before.' And we should do well to admit what is admissible in such a statement at once, and to the fullest extent. We might perhaps say that there was nothing very new in any one individual precept of Christianity; that, if we knew enough about the religious developments which preceded it, we should find a great deal of Christianity before Christ. Professor Jowett said in this pulpit the other day that we might take out of past religions all the principal ethical doctrines of Christianity. We might go a step beyond, and say that a good deal of Judaism did not come from Jews, but from Egypt, from Assyria, and so forth. For instance, it may be true that the Jews had no idea of the immortality of the soul before they went to Assyria, and that they brought the doctrine of a future life back with them when they returned from their captivity. Therefore, when Christ came into the world the doctrine of the immortality of the soul had been the belief of other religions, and only in a secondary sense can Christ be said to have brought life and immortality to light in His Gospel. Then most certainly Christianity has taken a great many of its sacrificial doctrines from Jewish ceremonial theology. If you read the Epistle to the Hebrews—which, by the way, is probably not St. Paul's—you will see an attempt is
made to fit in the teaching and the life of Christ with the Jewish sacrificial rites, with Jewish doctrines of separation and purification, legal punishment, rude justice, and the whole fabric of the ceremonial law of Moses ; and you may think the experiment has succeeded or otherwise, as the case may be. But about the fact there can be no doubt in the mind of any honest or ordinarily intelligent and unprejudiced person. The sacrificial portion of Christianity is certainly neither new nor original ; but then, it must be added, the Christianity of Jesus is one thing and the Christianity of the Hebrews and some of the Pauline epistles is another. People who think it necessary to reconcile the two systems will be no doubt equal to the task-it may be a little beyond some of us. I am now merely concerned to point out to you that both the Christianity of Christ and of his immediate followers gathered unto itself various elements
the Jewish element amongst them—and that the teaching of Christ, like the teaching of every prophet and reformer, came clothed in precepts and doctrines, and even forms, such as Baptism and the Lord's Supper, with which the world was already familiar. You might go further, perhaps, and single out every petition of the Lord's Prayer, for instance, in the literature that already existed at the coming of Christ. You don't find the very prayer anywhere written down, but you may pick out the several parts of it, or something very like them. Now just in the same way you don't find Christianity itself in the past religions or philosophies of the world ; but you may take out a great many points and arrange