( Originally Published 1896 )
True art is not the mere art of fancy, but of intellect and soul, which makes matter subordinate and tributary to spirit. The finest painting of Christ is the merest pigment - mere paint. All depends on the use we make of art. It may be a curse or a blessing to us. The sight of a cross crowning a church spire or held up by the priest at the altar or worn on the neck may not make one love the Savior more. Religion is something more than a form-an outward material figure. There may be no more pure religion in a great marble cathedral, nor half so much, as in a plain Quaker meeting-house or big tent raised for God's worship.
It is possible that a fine work of art, even though execrated for the express purpose of aiding religious worship, may tend to draw off the mind from the service of the Divine to an admiration of the human skill that produced it. A certain famous flower-painter executed a. portrait of James the Second, of .England. When the performance was finished, his majesty appeared in the midst of a bower of sunflowers and tulips, which completely drew away attention from the central figure,. so that all who looked at it took it for a flower-piece. It is as criminal to hide the Christ beneath gorgeous illustrations as it is to ignore him altogether. He must be supreme."
Let us see nothing else but Christ in our worship. St. Paul determined to know nothing but Christ Jesus and Him crucified. When a sorrowing penitent soul is seeking pardon and comfort, he wants something be-sides a painted or chiseled Savior. We rejoice in the triumphs of science and the glories of art, but these are not the great specific for curing the sorrows and evils of human life; these are not the potent panacea. for the healing of the nations. These are aids, but not remedies. What then is the one remedy for the deep sorrows of the heart of man, what is the precious boon that will alone sustain him under trials? Ah, it is " The old, old story, told of in an old, old Book, and fraught with an old, old teaching."
Why is Christianity encircling the globe to-day? " Because behind its creeds and cathedrals, behind its sacraments and ritual, radiant and clear, rises the figure of the Christ of Bethlehem and Olivet, risen from the dead, regnant in the heavens, the incarnate Son of God. And upon the seas of modern controversy I see his pierced feet treading their wildness into eternal peace."
Christ must be first and foremost in all our worship. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. A religion, though it had all the doctrines and forms of the New Testament, and all the embellishments of fine art, is good for nothing if Christ is obscured. The spiritual Christ must be the central figure in all our theology.