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“CHRISTIANITY IN ITS LOWEST TERMS.” The phrase we have quoted as a caption is suggestive. As employed by its author, it discriminates Christianity in its constant factors from Christianity in its variable expressions. As a Japanese Christian, he pleads for a Japanese Christianity, and who can say him Nay? It should be a first principle in foreign missionary work so to introduce and propagate Christianity that it shall strike its roots into the soil in which it is planted. It can only flourish as a tree of life.
The phrase has other commendable applications. It expresses a desire, very general and strong at the present time, to apprehend Christianity in its simplicity and purity. The motive is mainly practical. Large bodies or classes of men are more or less alienated from Christianity in any of its highly developed forms, — from its elaborate creeds, its rituals, its organizations. Men are suspecting or concluding that the gospel is too much weighted with human additions, with metaphysical theories concerning God, with narrow-minded and narrower-hearted beliefs concerning man, with priestly pretension or pietistic ignorance, with traditionalism and institutionalism, to do its proper work in this stage of human history. It must be stripped of these encumbrances, set free froin manifold restrictions, inspired with the power of its universal truths, preached to the universal mind and heart of man. Such an endeavor is only to be encouraged and promoted. The ultimate success of Christianity must be the triumph of a pure Christianity.. What is not Christian may serve it, but cannot represent it nor do its work. All that is essentially foreign to it is hostile to it. It can possess all things, but only as it masters all things, everywhere infusing and perpetuating its own pure and uncompromising spirit.
There is also a powerful intellectual, rational, scientific interest in this task of ascertaining and understanding what the gospel is in its purity. The instinct for knowledge was never keener than now. It is equipped with improved instruments of investigation, with new or better understood tests of results ; it has a wider outlook and clearer vision. Discrimination between what is temporary or local and what is general and permanent, estimates gained by multiplied observations, comparisons, eliminations, reductions, attempts to discern general laws and constant forces and real unity in phenomenal diversity, are as natural to modern Western thought as contemplation to a mediæval mystic, or fantasy and allegory to an Oriental theosophist. Christianity must needs be analyzed to its last element, studied in its phenomena, traced to its origins, set in relation to all other religious phenomena, assigned its place in human development. Deeper and more fascinating, though not always discriminated, is the inquiry, What is it? than the question, How it arose ? And
phenomena, asisough not always die And
as one tradition after another, however pious, is discredited by a better knowledge, it becomes a necessity of Christian faith itself to search out and seize upon what is permanent, essential, and vital.
As expressive of these discriminations and endeavors, the phrase “Christianity in its lowest terms ” is as laudable as striking. It may, however, suggest methods of dealing with Christianity which are misleading or harmful. Some of these we will briefly notice.
1. The method of reducing Christianity to what is common to it and other religions. This was a favorite process with the English deists. One writer found five truths which constitute the essence of all religions. Another reduced everything to one principle, — the Moral Law followed as the will of God. The same method has often been tried. Philosophical Ebionism resorted to it in its effort to offer a Jewish resistance to the early progress of Christianity. It accepted Jesus as a religious teacher, and put Him in a line with Moses and Adam. It sought to combine paganism, Judaism, and Christianity in one universal religion. So, still later, Neo-Platonism, in the interest of heathenism, tried to defeat the triumph of Christianity by a philosophical combination and reduction of religious systems. What is noticeable in respect to each and all these attempts is, not merely that neither type of religion — the Jewish, the Græco-Roman, the Christian — was preserved in this way, but that the whole endeavor was a failure. Nothing came of it, however repeatedly tried. Each religion lost in the process its characteristics. The result was characterless. A religion which can fulfill other religions cannot be merely the sum of their common qualities, or these with some additions of its own. It must bring to perfection their distinctive excellences. It must unite them in something higher and better. It must be more than superior to each or to all; it must comprehend them all, and be the whole of which they are only fragmentary parts ; and in this conception and realization of totality and unity there is something distinctively its own which cannot be found by a mere reduction of all to what is common. Neither Judaism, nor heathenism, nor Christianity, as we have said, came to its rights in any of the historic eclectic religious types to which we have alluded. Each lost its distinctive excellences. Reduction to the lowest terms was an elimination of the highest and best.
2. The method of reducing Christianity to what is common to the various modes in which it has been professed. Man is distinguished from other animals by his generic characteristics. Yet it is not from the average man, or from man reduced to his lowest terms, that we obtain our truest conception of humanity. Rather we study humanity in its best specimens. We select representative men. When we find a personality that exhibits human nature at its best, we say, There's a man. The greatest men, indeed, are entitled to this honor, not by reason of peculiarities which separate them from others of their race, but because they permanently exhibit qualities which belong to their race. They
are great, because they have so much of what is common to man, and in so high a degree. The more they have of the common quality, the greater they are. Their profoundest thoughts are capable of becoming universal maxims. Their highest imaginations draw all men upwards. Their best life is capable of the widest influence. It is so with communities, particular races, and nations. The more perfectly each represents humanity, the greater it is. Yet it does not follow from this representative character that in such manifestations of humanity we are simply discovering what is essentially necessary to humanity. We are rather more and more clearly discerning what is most truly, most perfectly human, — not merely what there must be in order that there may be a man at all, or the rudiments of a social order, but what there must be in order that there may be the truest and best man, and the most perfect human society. It is the same thing in learning what Christianity is. We need to contemplate it in its most adequate expressions. Catholic Christianity at any given time may not be so true and exemplary a Christianity as some contemporary provincial Christianity. Within the apostolic age the doctrine common to all the apostles is not so adequate and effective a representation of the Christian faith as is Paulinism, and there are elements of this faith more perfectly exhibited in the writings of St. John than in those of any other apostle. Apostolic Christianity reduced to its lowest terms is a saving faith ; but it is not so Christian nor so truly the power of God unto salvation as apostolic Christianity in its highest terms. Athanasius was a provincial theologian before he became an ecumenical leader. Western theology was shaped by a fervid son of Africa, who never became Bishop of Rome, nor led a general council. The Reformation was provincial and local. Its special doctrine — the one that had in it the germ of development whose fruits are borne to-day wherever civil or religious liberty is real or assured — never before had found organic expression and a suitable field for its beneficent triumphs. It would not be possible to know to-day as much of Christianity as every student of the Pauline Epistles and every reader of the Bible may know, if it had not been for Martin Luther and John Calvin, and their provincial reformations. One does not best learn what sculpture is by collecting specimens from many lands, but by studying what has come down to us from one very limited country whose artists lead all others. Painting reduced to its lowest terms, — what would it give uns ? Certainly not the pictures that lovers of art cross seas and continents to behold.
3. The method of recurrence to the Christianity of some past time as exclusively normal. No one can question the advantage of comparing the Christianity of to-day with that of other times. No one can doubt that the nearer we draw to the companies of primitive disciples, the more clearly we can discern that many things which pass for Christianity are unessential to it, or incongruous with it. We are not dis
crediting a comparative study of religious experiences and achievements. What we would oppose is the attempt to set up the Christianity of some past age as the standard for to-day, because it exhibits to us Christianity in its simplicity and integrity. Some thus exalt the Nicene age; others, the Ante-Nicene ; more, the apostolic. The method is faulty. It misconstrues Christianity ; makes it a code or a catechism, instead of a principle of life, a schoolmaster for one generation rather than the master of all the generations, a copying of patterns and models, and not an inspiration to all true knowledge of God and holy and beneficent living. The centre and circumference of the Christian revelation is a Person, to be known in the events of his life, the revelations of his character, the disclosure of his mind and will, the work of his Spirit. In all his offices He lives and works through all the generations. He is the perpetual Prophet, the ever-living Priest, the enthroned King. No age has been bereft of his presence. No century has passed but has revealed something of his purpose. Scripture, indeed, is sufficient for its end, and cannot be superseded. As a revelation of Christ it is normative to the end of time. But it does not exclude other revelations; on the contrary, it prepares for them and pledges them. We may not disunite what is thus divinely connected. Neither have we any right to overlook or contemn or disregard the constant and present revelation, and thus fail to enrich and enlarge our conception of Christianity and our understanding of its claims upon us. If we mistake not, no Christian doctrine now needs more attention, both in the pulpit and in theological lecture-rooms, than that of the Spirit's testimony through the church, — a testimony not restricted to the past, but ever augmenting in fullness and power, and discernible in every age by those who are of a spiritual mind. Through such a ministration Christianity is revealed, not in its lowest terms, but in increasing measures.
4. The method of reduction to some single element of Christianity. Sometimes, as in a recent paper by Dr. Momerie, in the “Forum,” the reduction is to righteousness; at other times, faith has been equally exalted, or dogma, or submission to authority.
The true method we believe to be the historic, including under this the conception of divine as well as human factors, and recognizing, as involved in the history and necessary to its correct understanding, the primacy, the originating and life-giving power, of the divine. In history, we are not dealing with an abstraction, but with a given divine reality, manifesting itself within the order of human life and action, and operating in accordance with the conditions and laws there prescribed. We know Christianity under its historic forms, that is, as doctrine, life, and organization, each having its part in the development, neither capable of being thought away or eliminated from the process without the subject of the process being essentially changed and another substituted in its stead. Historically, there never has been a Christianity without these elements. If we remove either, we get, not Christianity in its lowest terms, but a fancy of our own invention, — “another gospel which is not another.” Assuming these three elements, vouched for and attested in sacred Scripture and by the whole history of the church, we would press the thought that what is everywhere most needed, by whatever steps it shall be reached, is not Christianity in its lowest terms, but in its highest. That is, men need the gospel in its fullness; not in meagreness, not in a simplicity which really means emptiness and incapacity of a rich development, but in its power to take possession of the individual soul in all its activities, and of society in all its functions and spheres. It is enlargement that is now needed, not restriction ; comprehension, not reduction and exclusion. We do not mean that whatever the church has gained through the centuries is to be thrust at once upon untutored minds, nor that it is to be iniposed at all. There are rudiments of Christian science, as of all other knowledge. We have already recognized the duty of the foreign missionary to implant Christian truths as living germs, and to look for their growth according to their environment. We expect no uniformity in doctrine, life, or polity. But everywhere, in Japan as in America, on missionary ground as where Christianity has formed society for generations, men are to be encouraged and helped to find Christ in the fullness of his power to redeem and make alive. Christ, as Staupitz taught Luther, is a real Saviour for real sinners. There is nothing fictitious about Him, or small or limited, save as He became poor that we might be made rich. If we might say a word to our brethren in Japan, whose doubts and struggles are so vividly depicted or suggested in the paper that has occasioned these remarks, it would be but to repeat the word of that versatile, wide-looking, early convert to Christianity who was one of its first teachers at Alexandria, that meeting-place of all nations and religions, especially those of the East, — the significant word : “ We must cast ourselves into the greatness of Christ.”
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RECENT EPISCOPAL ELECTION.
It is quite too late at the time at which we go to press to write in a merely congratulatory vein upon the election of Dr. Phillips Brooks as Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts. Our congratulations, though necessarily late, are hearty and respectful toward all immediately concerned in the election: to Dr. Brooks upon the spontaneous and widespread tribute to his character and influence ; to Trinity Church upon its noble spirit of sacrifice in surrendering so ungrudgingly its private claim to the general desire ; to the Convention upon the willingness of the minority to subordinate questions of polity, and even of dogma, to the advancement of a common Christianity. But as time passes it becomes evident that the event calls for something more than congratulation, how