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True Greatness Of The Old Testament - Part 2

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Meanwhile to popular Christianity, from those who can see its errors, is due an indulgence inexhaustible, except where limits are required to it for the good of religion itself. Two considerations make this indulgence right. One is, that the language of the Bible being,—which is the great point a sound criticism establishes against dogmatic theology, —approximate, not scientific, in all expressions of religious feeling approximate language is lawful, and indeed is all we can attain to. It cannot be adequate, more or less proper it can be ; but, in general, approximate language consecrated by use and religious feeling acquires therefrom a propriety of its own. This is the first consideration. The second is, that on both the `method' and the 'secret' of Jesus popular Christianity in no contemptible measure both can and does, as we have said, lay hold, in spite of its inadequate criticism of the Bible. Now, to lay hold on the method and secret of Jesus is a very great thing; an inadequate criticism of the Bible is a comparatively small one.

Certainly this consideration should govern our way of regarding many things in popular Christianity ;its missions, for instance. The non-Christian religions are not to the wise man mere monsters ; he knows they have much good and truth in them. He knows that Mahometanism, and Brahminism, and Buddhism, are not what the missionaries call them; and he knows, too, how really unfit the missionaries are to cope with them. For any one who weighs the matter well, the missionary in clerical coat and gaiters whom one sees in wood-cuts preaching to a group of picturesque Orientals, is, from the inadequacy of his criticism both of his hearers' religion and of his own, and his signal misunderstanding of the very Volume he holds in his hand, a hardly less grotesque object in his intellectual equipment for his task than in his outward attire. Yet everyone allows that this strange figure carries something of what is called European civilisation with him, and a good part of this is due to Christianity. But even the Christianity itself that he preaches, imbedded in a false theology though it be, cannot but contain, in a greater or lesser measure as it may happen, these three things : the all-importance of righteousness, the method of Jesus, the secret of Jesus. No Christianity that is ever preached but manages to carry something of these along with it.

And if it carries them to Mahometanism, they are carried where of the all-importance of righteousness there is a knowledge, but of the method and secret of Jesus, by which alone is righteousness possible, hardly any sense at all if it carries them to Brahminism, they are carried where of the all-importance of righteousness, the foundation of the whole matter, there is a wholly insufficient sense; and where religion is, above all, that metaphysical conception, or metaphysical play, so dear to the Aryan genius and to M. Emile Burnouf. If it carries them to Buddhism, they are carried to a religion to be saluted with respect, indeed; for it has not only the sense for righteousness, it has, even, it has the secret of Jesus. But it employs the secret ill, because greatly wanting in the method, because utterly wanting in the sweet reasonableness, the unerring balance, the epieikeia. Therefore to all whom it visits, the Christianity of our missions, inadequate as may be its criticism of the Bible, brings what may do them good. And if it brings the Bible itself, it brings what may not only help the good preached; but may also with time dissipate the erroneous criticism which accompanies this and impairs it. All this is to be said for popular religion ; and it all makes in favour of treating popular religion tenderly, of sparing it as much as possible, of trusting to time and indirect means to trans-form it, rather than to sudden, violent changes.

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