Religion New-Given - Part 5
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
And thus was the great doctrine of the Old Testament : To righteousness belongs happiness ! made a true and potent word again. Jesus Christ was the Messiah to restore the all things of Israel,—righteousness, and happiness with righteousness ; to bring light and recovery after long days of darkness and ruin, and to make good the belief written on Israel's heart : The righteous is an everlasting foundation ! Eut we have seen how in the hopes of the nation and in the promises of prophecy this true and vital belief of Israel was mixed with a quantity of what we have called Aberglaube or extra-belief, adding all manner of shape and circumstance to the original thought. The kingdom of David and Solomon was to be restored on a grander scale, the enemies of Israel were to lick the dust, kings were to bring gifts ; there was to be the Son of Man coming in the clouds, judgment given to the saints of the Most High, and an eternal reign of the saints afterwards.
Now, most of this has a poetical value, some of it has a moral value. All of it is, in truth, a testimony to the strength of Israel's idea of righteousness. For the order of its growth is, as we have seen, this : `To righteousness belongs happiness ; but this sure rule is often broken in the state of things which now is ; there must, therefore, be in store for us, in the future, a state of things where it will hold good.' But none of it has a scientific value, a certitude arising from proof and experience. And indeed it cannot have this, for it professes to be an anticipation of a state of things not yet actually experienced.
But human nature is such, that the mind easily dwells on an anticipation of this kind until we come to forget the order in which it arose, place it first when it is by rights second, and make it support that by which it is in truth supported. And so there had come to be many Israelites,—most likely' they were the great majority of their nation,—who supposed that righteousness was to be followed, not out of thankful self-surrender to 'the Eternal who loveth righteousness,' r but because the Ancient of Days was to sit before long, and judgment was to be given to the saints, and they were to possess the kingdom, and from the kingdom those who did not follow righteousness were to be excluded. From this way of conceiving religion came naturally the religious condition of the Jews as Jesus at his coming found it; and from which, by his new and living way of presenting the Messiah, he sought to extricate the whole nation, and did extricate his disciples. He did extricate these, in that he fixed their thoughts upon himself and upon an ideal of in wardness, mildness, and self-renouncement, instead of a phantasmagory of outward grandeur and self-asserticn. But at the same time the whole train of an extra-belief, or Aberglaube, which had attached itself to Israel's old creed : The righteous is an everlasting foundation I transferred itself to the new creed brought by Jesus. And there arose, accordingly, a new Aberglaube like the old. The mild, inward, self renouncing and sacrificed Servant of the Eternal, the new and better Messiah, was yet, before the present generation passed, to come on the clouds of heaven in power and glory like the Messiah of Daniel, to gather by trumpet-call his elect from the four winds, and to set his apostles on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The motive of Christianity,—which was, in truth, that pure souls ' knew the voice' of Jesus as sheep know the voice of their shepherd, and felt, after seeing and hearing him, that his doctrine and ideal was what they wanted, that he was ' indeed the saviour of the world,' —this simple motive became a mixed motive, adding to its first contents a vast extra-belief of a phantasmagorical advent of Jesus Christ, a resurrection and judgment, Christ's adherents glorified, his rejectors punished everlastingly.
And when the generation, for which this advent was first fixed, had passed away without it, Christians discovered by a process of criticism common enough in popular theology, but by which, as Bishop Butler says of a like kind of process, ' anything may be made out of anything,'—they discovered that the advent had never really been fixed for that first generation by the writers of the New Testament, but that it was foretold, and certainly in store, for a later time. So the Aberglaube was perpetuated, placed out of reach of all practical test, and made stronger than ever.
With the multitude, this Aberglaube, or extra-belief, inevitably came soon to surpass the original conviction itself in attractiveness and seeming certitude. The future and the miraculous engaged the chief attention of 'Christians ; and, in accordance with this stain of thought, they more and more rested the proof of Christianity, not on its internal evidence, but on prophecy and miracle.