Oriental Religions and Christianity Part 14

[Footnote 133: _Science of Religion_, p. 99.]

[Footnote 134: _Science of Religion_, p. 88.]

[Footnote 135: "The ancient relics of African faith are rapidly disappearing at the approach of Mohammedan and Christian missionaries; but what has been preserved of it, chiefly through the exertions of learned missionaries, is full of interest to the student of religion, with its strange worship of snakes and ancestors, its vague hope of a future life, and its not altogether faded reminiscence of a Supreme God, the Father of the black as well as of the white man."--_Science of Religion_, p. 39.]

[Footnote 136: While he maintains that the idea of God must have preceded that of _gods_, as the plural always implies the singular, he yet claims very justly that the exclusive conception of monotheism as against polytheism could hardly have existed. Men simply thought of God as God, as a child thinks of its father, and does not even raise the question of a second.--See _Chips from a German Workshop_, vol. i., p.


[Footnote 137: St. Augustine, in quoting Cyprian, shows that the fathers of the Church looked upon Plato as a monotheist. The passage is as follows: "For when he (Cyprian) speaks of the Magians, he says that the chief among them, Hostanes, maintains that the true God is invisible, and that true angels sit at His throne; and that Plato agrees with this and believes in one God, considering the others to be demons; and that Hermes Trismegistus also speaks of one God, and confesses that He is incomprehensible." Angus., _De Baptismo contra Donat_., Lib. VI., Cap.


[Footnote 138: _The Aryan Witness_, passim.]

[Footnote 139: Aristotle said, "God, though He is one, has many names, because He is called according to the states into which He always enters anew."]

[Footnote 140: _The Religions of China_, p. 16.]

[Footnote 141: _The Religions of China_, p. 49.]

[Footnote 142: "In the year 1600 the Emperor of China declared in an edict that the Chinese should adore, not the material heavens, but the _Master_ of heaven."--Cardinal Gibbons: _Our Christian Heritage_.]

[Footnote 143: Martin: _The Chinese_, p. 106.]

[Footnote 144: It has been related by Rev. Hudson Taylor that the fishermen of the Fukien Province, when a storm arises, pray to the goddess of the sea; but when that does not avail they throw all the idols aside and pray to the "Great-grandfather in Heaven." Father is a great conception to the Chinese mind. Great-grandfather is higher still, and stands to them for the Supreme.]

[Footnote 145: _Science of Religion_, p. 86.]

[Footnote 146: _The Chinese_, p. 99.]

[Footnote 147: Other writers contend that he was probably contemporaneous with Abraham. Still others think Zoroaster a general name for great prophets. Darmestetter inclines to this view.]

[Footnote 148: _Chips from a German Workshop._]

[Footnote 149: Archbishop Vaughn, of Sydney, emphatically declares that the aborigines of Australia believe in a Supreme Being.]

[Footnote 150: Rev. Mr. Johnson, of Lagos, has expressed a belief that the pagan tribes of West Africa were monotheists before the incursion of the Mohammedans. Rev. Alfred Marling, of Gaboon, bears the same testimony of the Fans.]

[Footnote 151: Rev. A.C. Thompson, D.D. _The Moravians_.

One of the early converts from among the Ojibwas, said to the missionary, Rev. S.G. Wright: "A great deal of your preaching I readily understand, especially what you say about our real characters. We Indians all know that it is wrong to lie, to steal, to be dishonest, to slander, to be covetous, and we always know that the Great Spirit hates all these things. All this we knew before we ever saw the white man. I knew these things when I was a little boy. We did not, however, know the way of pardon for these sins. In our religion there is nothing said by the wise men about pardon. We knew nothing of the Lord Jesus Christ as a Saviour."]

[Footnote 152: Professor Tiele, of Leyden, asserts that "It is altogether erroneous to regard the Egyptian religion as the polytheistic degeneration of a prehistoric monotheism. It was polytheistic from the beginning." But on one of the oldest of Egyptian monuments is found this hymn, which is quoted by Cardinal Gibbons in _Our Christian Inheritance_:

"Hail to thee, say all creatures; ...

The gods adore thy majesty, The spirits thou has made exalt thee, Rejoicing before the feet of their begetter.

They cry out welcome to thee, Father of the fathers of all the gods, Who raises the heavens, who fixes the earth; We worship thy spirit who alone hast made us, We whom thou hast made thank thee that thou hast given us birth, We give to thee praises for thy mercy toward us."]

[Footnote 153: _Modern Atheism_, p. 13.]

[Footnote 154: _Chips from a German Workshop_, vol. ii., pp. 146, 147.]

[Footnote 155: _Science of Religion_, Lecture III., p. 57.]

[Footnote 156: Acts xvii. 28.]

[Footnote 157: Prescott's _Conquest of Mexico_.]

[Footnote 158: Reville in his _Hibbert Lectures_ on Mexican and Peruvian religions asserts that polytheism existed from the beginning, but our contention is that One God was supreme and created the sun.]

[Footnote 159: De Pressense: _The Ancient World and Christianity_.]

[Footnote 160: Bournouf found the Tantras so obscene that he refused to translate them.]

[Footnote 161: T. Rhys Davids: _Buddhism_, p. 208.]

[Footnote 162: _Report of Missionary Conference_, vol. i, p. 70.]

[Footnote 163: Buddhism, in the _Britannica_.]

[Footnote 164: Rev. S.G. Wright, long a missionary among the American Indians, says: "During the forty-six years in which I have been laboring among the Ojibway Indians, I have been more and more impressed with the evidence, showing itself in their language, that at some former time they have been in possession of much higher ideas of God's attributes, and of what constitutes true happiness, immortality, and virtue, as well as of the nature of the Devil and his influence in the world, than those which they now possess. The thing which early in our experience surprised us, and which has not ceased to impress us, is, that, with their present low conceptions of spiritual things, they could have chosen so lofty and spiritual a word for the Deity. The only satisfactory explanation seems to be that, at an early period of their history, they had higher and more correct ideas concerning God than those which they now possess, and that these have become, as the geologists would say, _fossilized_ in their forms of speech, and so preserved."--_Bibliotheca Sacra_, October, 1889.]

[Footnote 165: _Modern Atheism_, p. 10.]

[Footnote 166: I. Kings, xiv., and II. Kings, xxiii.]



I am to speak of certain indirect tributes borne by the non-Christian religions to the doctrines of Christianity. One such tribute of great value we have already considered in the prevalence of early monotheism, so far corroborating the scriptural account of man's first estate, and affording many proofs which corroborate the scriptural doctrine of human apostasy. Others of the same general bearing will now be considered. The history of man's origin, the strange traditions of his fall by transgression and his banishment from Eden, of the conflict of good with evil represented by a serpent, of the Deluge and the dispersion of the human race, have all been the subjects of ridicule by anti-Christian writers:--though by turns they have recognized these same facts and have used them as proofs that Christianity had borrowed them from old myths.

The idea of sacrifice, or atonement, of Divine incarnation, of a trinity, of mediation, of a salvation by faith instead of one's own merits, have been represented as unphilosophical, and therefore improbable in the nature of the case.

It becomes an important question, therefore, whether other religions of mankind show similar traditions, however widely they have dwelt apart, and however diversified their languages, literatures, and institutions may have been in other respects. And it is also an important question, whether even under heathen systems, the consciousness of sin and the deepest moral yearnings of men have found expression along the very lines which are represented by the Christian doctrines of grace. To these questions we now address ourselves. What are the lessons of the various ethnic traditions? And how are we to account for their striking similarities? The most obvious theory is, that a common origin must be assigned to them, that they are dim reminiscences of a real knowledge once clear and distinct. The fact that with their essential unity they differ from each other and differ from our Scriptural record, seems to rather strengthen the theory that all--our own included--have been handed down from the pre-Mosaic times--ours being divinely edited by an inspired and infallible author. Their differences are such as might have been expected from separate transmissions, independently made.

We have, first of all, the various traditions of the Creation. In most heathen races there have appeared, in their later stages, grave and grotesque cosmogonies; and a too common impression is, that these represent the real teachings of their sacred books or their earliest traditions. But when one enters upon a careful study of the non-Christian religions, and traces them back to their sources, he finds more rational accounts of the Creation and the order of nature, and sees striking points of resemblance to the Mosaic record. The story of Genesis represents the "Beginning" as formless, chaotic, and dark. The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. The heavens and the earth were separated. Light appeared long before the sun and moon were visible, and the day and night were clearly defined. Creation proceeded in a certain order from vegetable to animal life, and from lower animals to higher, and last of all man appeared. In heathen systems we find fragments of this traditional account, and, as a rule, they are more or less clear in proportion to their nearness to, or departure from, the great cradle of the human race.[167] Thus Professor Rawlinson quotes from an Assyrian account of the creation, as found upon the clay tablets discovered in the palace of Assur-bani-pal, a description of formlessness, emptiness, and darkness on the deep--of a separation between the earth and sky--and of the light as preceding the appearance of the sun. That account also places the creation of animals before that of man, whom it represents as being formed of the dust of the earth, and as receiving a divine effluence from the Creator.[168] According to an Etruscan saga quoted by Suidas, God created the world in six periods of 1,000 years each. In the first, the heavens and the earth; in the second, the firmament; in the third, the seas; in the fourth, the sun, moon, and stars; in the fifth, the beasts of the land, the air, and the sea; in the sixth, man. According to a passage in the Persian Avesta, the supreme Ormazd created the visible world by his word in six periods or thousands of years: in the first, the heavens with the stars; in the second, the water and the clouds; in the third, the earth and the mountains; in the fourth, the trees and the plants; in the fifth, the beasts which sprang from the primeval beast; in the sixth, man.[169]

As we get farther away from the supposed early home of the race, the traditions become more fragmentary and indistinct. The Rig Veda, Mandala, x., 129, tells us that:

"In the beginning there was neither naught nor aught; There was neither day nor night nor light nor darkness; Only the EXISTENT ONE breathed calmly. Next came darkness, gloom on gloom. Next all was water--chaos indiscrete."[170]

Strikingly similar is the language quoted in a former lecture from the prayer of a Chinese emperor of the Ming Dynasty. It runs thus: "Of old, in the beginning, there was the great chaos without form and dark. The five elements had not begun to revolve, nor the sun and moon to shine.

In the midst thereof there presented itself neither form nor sound.

Thou, O Spiritual Sovereign, didst divide the grosser parts from the purer. Thou madest heaven: Thou madest earth: Thou madest man."

There is a possibility that these conceptions may have come from Christian sources instead of primitive Chinese traditions, possibly from early Nestorian missionaries, though this is scarcely probable, as Chinese emperors have been slow to introduce foreign conceptions into their august temple service to Shangte; its chief glory lies in its antiquity and its purely national character. Buddhism had already been in China more than a thousand years, and these prayers are far enough from its teachings. May we not believe that the ideas here expressed had always existed in the minds of the more devout rulers of the empire? In similar language, the Edda of the Icelandic Northmen describes the primeval chaos.

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