True Greatness Of Christianity - Part 2
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Few things are more melancholy than to observe Christian apologists taunting the Jews with the failure of Hebraism to fulfil the splendid promises of prophecy, and Jewish apologists taunting Christendom with the like failure on the part of Christianity. Neither has yet fulfilled them, or could yet have fulfilled them. Certainly the restoration by Cyrus, the Second Temple, the Maccabean victories, are hardly more than the shadows of a fulfilment of the magnificent words : 'The sons of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee, and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet ; thy gates shall not be shut day nor night, that men may bring unto thee the treasures of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought.' ' The Christianisation of all the leading nations of the world is, it is said, a much better fulfillment of that promise. Be it so. Yet does Christendom, let us ask, offer more than a shadow of the fulfilment of this : 'Violence shall no more be heard in thy land ; the vile person shall no more be called noble, nor the worker of mischief worthy ; thy people shall be all righteous ; they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest ; I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts ; the Eternal shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended '? 2 Manifestly it does not. Yet the two promises hang together : one of them is not truly fulfilled unless the other is.
The promises were made to righteousness, with all which the idea of righteousness involves. And it involves Christianity. They were made on the immediate prospect of a small triumph for righteousness, the restoration of the Jews after the captivity in Babylon : but they are not satisfied by that triumph. The prevalence of the profession of Christianity is a larger triumph : yet in itself it hardly satisfies them any better. What satisfies them is the prevailing of that which righteousness really is, and nothing else satisfies them. Now, Christianity is that which righteousness really is. Therefore, if something called Christianity prevails, and yet the promises are not satisfied, the inference is that this something is not° that which righteousness really is, and therefore not really Christianity. And as the course of the world is perpetually establishing the pre-eminence of righteousness, and confounding whatever denies this pre-eminence, so, too, the course of the world is for ever establishing what righteousness really is,—that is to say, true Christianity, —and confounding whatever pretends to be true Christianity and is not.
Now, just as the constitution of things turned out to be against the great unrighteous kingdoms of the heathen world, and against all the brilliant Ishmaels we have seen since, so the constitution of things turns out to be against all false presentations of Christianity, such as- the theology of the Fathers or Protestant theology. They do not work successfully, they do not reach the aim, they do not bring the world to the fruition of the promises made to righteousness. And the reason is, because they substitute for what is really righteousness something else. Catholic dogma or Lutheran justification by faith they substitute for the method and secret and temper of Jesus.
Nevertheless, as all Christian Churches do recommend the method and the secret of Jesus, though not in the right way or in the right eminency, still the world is made partially acquainted with what righteousness really is, and the doctrine produces some effect, although the full effect is much thwarted and deadened by the false way in which the doctrine is presented. However, the effect produced is great. For instance, the sum of individual happiness that has been caused by Christianity is, anyone can see, enormous. But let us take the effect of Christianity on the world. And if we look at the thing closely, we shall find that its effect has been this : Christianity has brought the world, or at any rate all the leading part of the world, to regard righteousness as only the yews regarded it before the coming of Christ. The world has accepted, so far as profession goes, that original revelation made to Israel : the pre-eminence of righteousness. The infinite truth and attractiveness of the method and secret and character of Jesus, however falsely surrounded, have prevailed with the world so far as this. And this is an immense gain, and a signal witness to Christianity. The world does homage to the pre-eminence of righteousness; and here we have one of those fulfilments of prophecy which are so real and so glorious. ' Glorious things are spoken of thee, O City of God ! I will make mention of Egypt and Babylon as of them that know me! behold, the Philistines also, and Tyre, with the Ethiopians,—these were born there! And of Zion it shall be reported : This and that man was born in her!--and the Most High shall stablish her. The Eternal shall count, when he writeth up the people : This man was born there!' 1 That prophecy is at the present day abundantly fulfilled. The world's chief nations have now all come, we see, to reckon and profess themselves born in Zion,-born, that is, in the religion of Zion, the city of righteousness.
But there remains the question : what righteousness really is. The method and secret and sweet reasonableness of Jesus. But the world does not see this; for it puts, as righteousness, something else first and this second. So that here, too, as to seeing what righteousness really is, the world now is much in the same position in which the Jews, when Jesus Christ came, were. It is often said : ' If Jesus Christ came now, his religion would be rejected.' And this is only another way of saying that the world now, as the Jewish people formerly, has something which thwarts and confuses its perception of what righteousness really is. It is so; and the thwarting cause is the same now as then :—the dogmatic system current, the so-called orthodox theology. This pre-vents now, as it did then, that which righteousness really is, the method and secret and temper of Jesus, from being rightly received, from operating fully, and from accomplishing its due effect.
So true is this, that we have only to look at our own community to see the almost precise parallel, so far as religion is concerned, to the state of things presented in Judća when Jesus Christ came. The multitudes are the same everywhere. The chief priests and elders of the people, and the scribes, are our bishops and dogmatists, with their pseudo-science of learned theology blinding their eyes, and always,—whenever simple souls are disposed to think that the method and secret of Jesus is true religion, and that the Great Personal First Cause and the Godhead of the Eternal Son have nothing to do with it,—eager to cry out: This people that knoweth not the law are cursed! The Pharisees, with their genuine concern for religion, but total want of perception of what religion really is, and by their temper, attitude, and aims doing their best to make religion impossible, are the Protestant Dissenters. The Sadducees are our friends the philosophical Liberals, who believe neither in angel nor spirit but in Mr. Herbert Spencer. Even the Roman governor has his close parallel in our celebrated aristocracy, with its superficial good sense and good nature, its complete inaptitude for ideas, its profound helplessness in presence of all great spiritual movements. And the result is, that the splendid promises to righteousness made by the Hebrew prophets, claimed by the Jews as the property of Judaism, claimed by us as the property of Christianity, are almost as ludicrously inapplicable to our religious state now, as to theirs then.
And this, we say, is again a signal witness to Christianity: Jesus Christ came to reveal what righteousness, to which the promises belong, really is; and so long as this, though shown by Jesus, is not recognised by us, we may call our-selves Christendom as much as we please, the true character of a Christendom will be wanting to us, because the great promises of prophecy will be still without their fulfilment. Nothing will do, except righteousness ; and no other conception of righteousness will do, except Jesus Christ's conception of it :—his method, his secret, and his temper.