True Greatness Of Christianity - Part 3
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Yes, the grandeur of Christianity and the imposing and impressive attestation of it, if we could but worthily bring the thing out, is here : in that immense experimental proof of the necessity of it, which the whole course of the world has steadily accumulated, and indicates to us as still containing and extending. Men will not admit assumptions, the popular legend they call a fairy-tale, the metaphysical demonstrations do not demonstrate, nothing but experimental proof will go down ; and here is an experimental proof which never fails, and which at the same time is infinitely grander, by the vastness of its scale, the scope of its duration, the gravity of its results, than the machinery of the popular fairy-tale. Walking on the water, multiplying loaves, raising corpses, a heavenly judge appearing with trumpets in the clouds while we are yet alive,—what is this compared to the real experience offered as witness to us by Christianity ? It is like the difference between the grandeur of an extravaganza and the grandeur of the sea or the sky,—immense objects which dwarf us, but where we are in contact with reality, and a reality of which we can gradually, though very slowly, trace the laws.
The more we trace the real law of Christianity's action the grander it will seem. Certainly in the Gospels there is plenty of matter to call out our feelings. But perhaps this has been somewhat overused and misused, applied, as it has been, chiefly so as to be subservient to what we call the fairy-tale of the three supernatural men, —a story which we do not deny to have, like other products of the popular imagination, its pathos and power, but which we have seen to be no solid foundation to rest our faith in the Bible on. And perhaps, too, we do wrong, and inevitably fall into what is artificial and unnatural, in labouring so much to produce in ourselves now, as the one impulse determining us to use the method and secret and temper of Jesus, that conscious ardent sensation of personal love to him, which we find the first generation of Christians feeling and professing, and which was the natural motor for those who were with him or near him, and, so to speak, touched him ; and in making this our first object. At any rate, misemployed as this motor has often been, it might be well to forgo or at least suspend its use for ourselves and others for a time, and to fix our minds exclusively on the recommendation given to the method and secret of Jesus by their being trite, and by the whole course of things proving this.
Now, just as the best recommendation of the oracle committed to Israel, Righteousness is salvation, is found in our more and more discovering, in our own history and in the whole history of the world, that it is so, so we shall find it to be with the method and secret of Jesus. That this is the righteousness which is salvation, that the method and secret of Jesus, that is to say, conscience and self-renouncement, with the temper of Jesus, are righteousness, bring about the kingdom of God or the reign of righteousness,—this, which is the Christian revelation and what Jesus came to establish, is best impressed. for the present at any rate, by experiencing and showing again and again, in ourselves and in the course of the world, that it is so ; that this is the righteousness which is saving, and that none other saves. Let us but well observe what comes, in ourselves or the world, of trying any other, of not being convinced that this is righteousness, and this only; and we shall find ourselves more and more, as by irresistible viewless hands, caught and drawn towards the Christian revelation, and made to desire more and more to serve it. No proof can be so solid as this experimental proof; and none again, can be so grand, so fitted to fill us with awe, admiration, and gratitude. So that feeling and emotion will now well come in after it, though not before it. For the whole course of human things is really, according to this experience, leading up to the fulfilment of Jesus Christ's promise to his disciples : Fear not, little flock ! for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. And thus that comes out, after all, to be true, which St. Paul announced prematurely to the first generation of Christians: When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory . And the author of the Apocalypse, in like manner, foretold : The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ. The kingdom of the Lord the world is already become, by its chief nations professing the religion of righteousness. The kingdom of Christ the world will have to become, it is on its way to become, because the profession of righteousness, except as Jesus Christ interpreted righteousness, is vain. We can see the process, we are ourselves part of it, and can in our measure help forward or keep back its completion.
When the prophet, indeed, says to Israel, on the point of being restored by Cyrus : ` The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish the promise, applied literally, fails. But extended to that idea of righteousness, of which Israel was the depositary and in which the real life of Israel lay, the promise is true, and we can see it fulfilled. In like manner, when the Apostle says to the Corinthians or to the Colossians, instructed that the second advent would come in their own generation : ` We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ!' —` When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory 1' 3 the promise, applied literally as the Apostle meant it and his converts understood it, fails. But divested of this Aberglaube or extra-belief; it is true ; if indeed the world can be shown,—and it can,—to be moving necessarily towards the triumph of that Christ in whom the Corinthian and Colossian disciples lived, and whose triumph is the triumph of all his disciples also.