Oriental Religions and Christianity Part 18

Our position, therefore, as before the abettors of heathen or agnostic philosophy, is impregnable: the fatalism is all theirs, the union of sovereign power with infinite love is ours. We have reason as well as they. We realize the facts and mysteries of life as fully as they, but are not embittered by them. We see nothing to be gained by putting out the light we have. We prefer faith to pessimism, incarnate love to the tyranny of "unconscious will."


[Footnote 184: Quoted in Fiske's _Destiny of Man_, p. 117.]

[Footnote 185: See _Indian Wisdom_, p. 82.]

[Footnote 186: What Kanada meant by adrishta was a sort of habit of matter derived from its past combinations in a previous cosmos, one or more. The rod which has been bent will bend again, and so matter which has once been combined will unite again.]

[Footnote 187: _Evolution and its Relation to Religious Thought_, p.


[Footnote 188: _On Natural Selection_, p. 353.]

[Footnote 189: _The Destiny of Man_, p. 80.]

[Footnote 190: _Evolution and its Relation to Religious Thought_, p.


[Footnote 191: Some of Goldwin Smith's utterances are such as these: "If morality has been based on religion there must be reason to fear that the foundation being removed the superstructure will fall. That it has rested on religion so far as the great majority are concerned will hardly be doubted." ... "The presence of this theistic sanction has been especially apparent in all acts and lives of all heroic self-sacrifice and self-devotion." ... "All moral philosophers whose philosophy has been practically effective, from Socrates down, have been religious.

Many have tried to find an independent basis but have not been successful--at least have not arrived at any agreement." ... "Thucydides ascribed the fall of Greece to the fall of religion. Machiavelianism followed the fall of the Catholic faith." ... "Into the void left by religion came spiritual charlatanry and physical superstition, such as the arts of the hierophant of Isis, the soothsayer, the astrologer--significant precursors of our modern mediums." ...

"Conscience as a mere evolution of tribal experience may have importance, but it can have no authority, and 'Nature' is an unmeaning word without an Author of nature--or rather it is a philosophic name for God." ... "Evolution is not moral, nor can morality be educed from it.

It proclaims as its law the survival of the fittest, and the only proof of fitness is survival." ... "We must remember that whatever may be our philosophic school we are still living under the influence of theism, and most of us under Christianity. There is no saying how much of Christianity still lingers in the theories of agnostics." ... "The generation after the next may perhaps see agnosticism, moral as well as religious, tried on a clear field." These utterances are weighty, though detached. We only raise a doubt whether "the generation after the next"

will see agnosticism tried on a clear field. On the contrary, it will be surrounded as now, and more and more, by Christian influences, and will still depend on those influences to save it from the sad results of its own teachings.]

[Footnote 192: _The Races of Man_, pp. 137, 138.]

[Footnote 193: _The Human Species_, p. 478.]

[Footnote 194: Mr. John Fiske declares that man is descended from the catarrhine apes.--_Destiny of Man_, p. 19. Professor Le Conte maintains that no existing animal could ever be developed into man. He traces all existing species up from a common stock, of which man is the head. The common line of ancestors are all extinct.--_Evolution in Relation to Religious Thought_, p. 90.]

[Footnote 195: _The Permanent Elements in Religion_, p. 154]

[Footnote 196: Book II., 13.]

[Footnote 197: Book IX., 17.]

[Footnote 198: Development by "heredity" and the Buddhist doctrine of transmigration, though both fatalistic, reach that result in different ways; they are, in fact, contradictory. Character, according to Buddhism, is inherited not from parents: it follows the line of affinity.]

[Footnote 199: _Indian Wisdom_, p. 152.]

[Footnote 200: _History of Philosophy_, pp. 220, 221.]

[Footnote 201: _Oriental Religions_--_India_. Part II., p. 44.]

[Footnote 202: Beal, _Buddhism in China_, p. 180.]

[Footnote 203: _Physics and Politics_.]

[Footnote 204: "Probably no more significant change awaits the theology of the future than the recognition of this province of the unknown, and the cessation of controversy as to matters that come within it, and therefore admit of no dogmatic settlement."--Tulloch's _Religious Thought in Britain_, p. 24.]



We have in previous lectures instituted brief and partial comparisons between Christianity and particular faiths of the East, but I now propose a general comparative survey.

Never before has the Christian Faith been so boldly challenged to show cause for its supreme and exclusive claims as in our time. The early Christians encountered something of the same kind: it seemed very preposterous to the proud Roman that an obscure sect, coming out of despised Nazareth, should refuse to place a statue of its deified Founder within the Pantheon, in the goodly company of renowned gods from every part of the Roman Empire; but it did so refuse and gave its reasons, and it ultimately carried its point. It gained the Pantheon and Rome itself for Christ alone. He was proclaimed as the One Redeemer of the world, and this claim has been maintained from that day to this.

"There can be no diversity," said His followers, "for there is no other name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved. The very genius of Christianity means supremacy and monopoly, for the reason that it is divine and God cannot be divided against Himself." But in our time the whole world is brought very closely together. The religions of men, like their social customs and political institutions, are placed in contact and comparison. The enemies of the Christian faith here, in Western lands, naturally make the most of any possible alliances with other systems supposed to antagonize Christianity; while a multitude of others, having no particular interest in any religion, and rather priding themselves upon a broad charity which is but a courteous name for indifference, are demanding with a superior air that fair play shall be shown to all religions alike. The Church is therefore called upon to defend her unique position and the promulgation of her message to mankind. Why does she refuse to admit the validity of other religions, and why send her missionaries over the earth to turn the non-Christian races from those faiths which are their heritage by birth, and in which they honestly put their trust? Why not respect everywhere that noblest of all man's instincts which prompts him to inquire after God, who hath made of one blood all nations that dwell upon the earth? If the old Hindu pantheism of the Bhagavad Gita taught that the worshippers of other gods were only worshipping the One Supreme Vishnu unawares; if Buddhism forbids its followers to assert that theirs is the only religion, or even that it is the best religion;[205] is it not time that Christians should emulate this noble charity?

This plausible plea is urged with such force and volume, it is so backed by the current literature and the secular newspaper press that it cannot be ignored. The time has come when the Church must not only be able to give a reason for the faith she professes, but must assign reasons why her faith should supplant every other. I am aware that many are insisting that her true course is to be found in an intensive zeal in the promulgation of her own doctrines without regard to any other.

"Preach the Gospel," it is said, "whether men will hear or whether they forbear." But it must be borne in mind that Paul's more intelligent method was to strive as one who would win, and not as they who beat the air. The Salvation Army will reach a certain class with their mere unlettered zeal. The men who purposely read only One Book, but read that on their knees, doubtless have an important work to do, but the Church as a whole cannot go back to the time when devout zealots sneered at the idea of an educated ministry. The conflict of truth and error must be waged intelligently. There are sufficient reasons for claiming a divine supremacy for the Gospel over all heathen faiths, and the sooner we thoroughly understand the difference, the more wisely and successfully shall we accomplish our work.

Wherein, then, consists the unique supremacy of the Christian faith?

1. It alone offers a real salvation. We are not speaking of ethics, or conceptions of God, or methods of race culture, but of that one element which heals the wounds of acknowledged sin and reconciles men to God.

And this is found in Christianity alone. There is no divine help in any other. Systems of speculation, theories of the universe, and of our relation to the Infinite are found in all sacred books of the East.

There are lofty ethical teachings gathered from the lips of many masters, and records of patient research, cheerful endurance of ascetic rigors, and the voluntary encounter of martyrs' deaths. And one cannot but be impressed by this spectacle of earnest struggles in men of every land and every age to find some way of peace. But in none of the ethnic religions has there been revealed a divine and heaven-wrought salvation.

They have all begun and ended with human merit and human effort. Broken cisterns have everywhere taken the place of the One Fountain of Eternal Life. Though all these systems recognize the sin and misery of the world, and carry their estimate of them to the length of downright pessimism, they have discovered no eye that could pity and no arm that could bring salvation. In the silence and gloom of the world's history only one voice has said, "Lo, I come! in the volume of the Book it is written of me." And although men have in all ages striven to rid themselves of sin by self-mortification, and even mutilation, yet the ever-recurring question, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" was never answered till Paul answered it in his rapturous acknowledgment of victory through the righteousness of Christ. Mohammed never claimed to be a saviour or even an intercessor. He was the sword of God against idolators, and the ambassador of God to believers; but beyond the promise of a sensuous heaven, he offered no salvation. He had no remedy for sin--except that in his own case he claimed a special revelation of clemency and indulgence. Many a wholesome truth derived from the Old Testament scriptures was promulgated to the faithful, but self-righteousness, and especially valor in Mohammedan conquest, was offered as the key to paradise.[206]

Doubtless we should view the false systems with discrimination. Like the sublime philosophy of Plato, Mohammedanism does teach an exalted idea of God, and there is, accordingly, a dignity and reverence in its forms of worship. I once witnessed a very imposing spectacle in the great mosque at Delhi, on the Moslem Sabbath. Several hundred Indian Mohammedans were repeating their prayers in concert. They were in their best attire, and fresh from their ablutions, and their concerted genuflections, the subdued murmur of their many voices, and the general solemnity of their demeanor, rendered the whole service most impressive. It contrasted strongly with the spectacle which I witnessed a little later in the temple of Siva, in Benares. The unspeakable worship of the linga, the scattering of rice and flowers and the pouring of libations before this symbol; the hanging of garlands on the horns of sacred bulls, and that by women; the rushing to and fro, tracking the filth of the sacred stables into the trodden ooze of rice and flowers which covered the temple pavements; the drawing and sipping of water from the adjacent cesspool, known as the sacred well; the shouting and striking of bells, and the general frenzy of the people--all this could be considered as nothing short of wild and depraved orgies. If we must choose, give us Islam, whether in contrast with the Siva worship of India or with the tyranny of the witch doctors of interior Africa.

Yet, I repeat, Islam has no salvation, no scheme of grace, no great Physician. In visiting any Mohammedan country one is impressed with this one defect, the want of a Mediator. I once stood in the central hall of an imposing mansion in Damascus, around the frieze of which were described, in Arabic letters of gold, "The Hundred Names of Allah." They were interpreted to me by a friend as setting forth the lofty attributes of God--for example, "The Infinite," "The Eternal," "The Creator," "The All-Seeing," "The Merciful," "The Just." No one could help being impressed by these inspiring names. They were the common heritage of Judaism and Christianity before Islam adopted them, and they are well calculated to fill the soul with reverence and awe. But there is another class of names which were predicted by Judaism and rejoiced in by Christianity, but which Islam rejects; for example, "Messiah,"

"Immanuel," or God with us, "The Son of God," "The Son of Man," "The Redeemer," "The Elder Brother." In a word, Islam has nothing to fill the breach between a holy and just God and the conscience-smitten souls of men. These honored names of Allah are as sublime as the snow-peaks of the Himalayas and as inaccessible. How can we attain unto them? Without a Daysman how shall we bridge the abyss that lies between? Even Israel plead for Moses to speak to them in place of the Infinite, and they voiced a felt want of all human hearts.

Yet no religious system but Christianity reveals a Mediator. There is in other faiths no such conception as the fatherhood of God. Though such names as Dyauspater, Zeuspiter or Jupiter, and others bearing the import of father are sometimes found, yet they imply only a common source, as the sun is the source of life. They lack the elements of love and fostering care. There can be no real fatherhood and no spirit of adoption except through union with the Son of God. The idea that re-birth and remission of sin may be followed by adoption and heirship, and joint heirship with the Son of the Infinite, belongs to the Christian faith alone; and the hope and inspiration of such a heritage, seen in contrast with the endless and disheartening prospects of countless transmigrations, are beyond the power of language to describe.

It was with infinite reason that Paul was taught to regard his work among the Gentiles as a rescue or a deliverance "from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God," and it was a priceless boon which enabled him to offer at once the full remission of sins and a part in the glorious inheritance revealed through faith in Christ.

Mere ethical knowledge cannot comfort the human soul. Contrast the gloom of Marcus Aurelius with the joy of David in Psalm cxix.; and Seneca, also, with all his discernment, and his eloquent presentation of beautiful precepts, was one of the saddest, darkest characters of Roman history. He was the man who schemed with Catiline, and who at the same time that he wrote epigrams urged Nero onward with flattery and encouragement to his most infamous vices and his boldest crimes.

Knowledge of ethical maxims and the power of expressing them, therefore, is one thing, religion is another. Religion is a device, human or divine, for raising up men by a real or a supposed supernatural aid. It ought to reveal God as a helper and a Saviour. It ought to be a provision of grace by which the Just can yet be a justifier of them that are weak and wounded by sin. The ethical systems of the heathen world corroborate the Scriptural diagnosis of man's character and condition, but they fail as prescriptions. So far as divine help and regenerative power are concerned, they leave the race helpless still.

Christianity is a system of faith in a moral as well as in an intellectual sense. It inculcates a spirit of loving, filial trust instead of a querulous self-righteousness which virtually chides the unknown Ruler of the universe. According to "The Light of Asia" when the Buddha preached at Kapilavastu there were assembled men and devils, beasts and birds, all victims alike of the cruel fate that ruled the world. Existence was an evil and only the Buddha could be found to pity.

But that pity offered no hope except in the destruction of hope, and the destruction of all desire, all aspiration, even all feeling; while Christianity offers a hope which maketh not ashamed, even an immortal inheritance.[207] Hinduism also, like Islam and Buddhism, lacks every element of divine salvation. It is wholly a thing of merit. The infinite Brahm is said to be void of attributes of all kinds. No anthropomorphic conception can be predicated of him. The three Gods of the Trimurti are cold and distant--though for Vishnu in his alleged incarnation of Krishna, a sympathetic nature was claimed at a later day--borrowed, some say, from Buddhism, or, according to others, from Christianity. In the Hindu saint all spiritual power in this life is the merit power of ascetic austerities, all hope for the future world lies in the cleansing efficacy of endless transmigrations of which the goal is absorption into deity.

But the difficulty with both Buddhism and Hinduism is that transmigration cannot regenerate. It is only a vague postponement of the moral issues of the soul. There is recognized no future intervention that can effect a change in the downward drift, and why should a thousand existences prove better than one? According to a law of physics known as the persistence of force, a body once set in motion will never stop unless through the intervention of some other resisting force. And this is strikingly true of moral character and the well-known power and momentum of habit. Who shall change the leopard's spots or deflect the fatal drift of a human soul? Remorselessly these Oriental systems exact from Kharma the uttermost farthing. They emphasize the fact that according to the sowing shall be the reaping, and that in no part of the universe can ill desert escape its awards. Even if change were possible, therefore, how shall the old score be settled? What help, what rescue can mere infinitude of time afford, though the transmigrations should number tens of thousands? There is no hint that any pitying eye of God or devil looks upon the struggle, or any arm is stretched forth to raise up the crippled and helpless soul. Time is the only Saviour--time so vast, so vague, so distant, that the mind cannot follows its cycles or trace the relations of cause and effect.

In contrast with all this, Christianity bids the Hindu ascetic cease from his self-mortification and become himself a herald of Glad Tidings.

It invites the hook-swinger to renounce his useless torture and accept the availing sacrifice of Him who hung upon the Cross. It relieves woman from the power of Satan, as exercised in those cruel disabilities which false systems have imposed upon her, and assigns her a place of honor in the kingdom of God. The world has not done scoffing at the idea of a vicarious sacrifice for the sins of men, and yet it has advanced so far that its best thinkers, even without any religious bias, are agreed that the principle of self-sacrifice is the very highest element of character that man can aspire to. And this is tantamount to an acknowledgment that the great principle which the Cross illustrates, and on which the salvation of the race is made to rest, is the crowning glory of all ethics and must be therefore the germinal principle of all true religion.

Christianity with its doctrine of voluntary Divine Sacrifice was no after-thought. Paul speaks of it as "the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations but now is made manifest." It was the one great mystery which angels had desired to look into and for which the whole world had waited in travail and expectation. Christ was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," and the entire world-history has proceeded under an economy of grace. And I repeat, its fundamental principle of sacrifice, exemplified as it has been through the Christian centuries, has won the recognition even of those who were not themselves the followers of Christ. "The history of self-sacrifice during the last eighteen hundred years," says Lecky, "has been mainly the history of the action of Christianity upon the world. Ignorance and error have no doubt often directed the heroic spirit into wrong channels, and sometimes even made it a cause of great evil to mankind; but it is the moral type and beauty, the enlarged conception and persuasive power of the Christian faith that have chiefly called it into being; and it is by their influence alone that it can be permanently maintained."[208] Speaking of the same principle Carlyle says: "It is only with renunciation that life, properly speaking, can be said to begin.... In a valiant suffering for others, not in a slothful making others suffer for us, did nobleness ever lie." And George Sand in still stronger terms has said, "There is but one sole virtue in the world--the Eternal Sacrifice of self."

While we ponder these testimonies coming from such witnesses we remember how the Great Apostle traces this wonder-working principle back to its Divine Source, and from that Source down into all the commonest walks of life when he says, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took on Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross." Or when he reminds the Corinthians that, though Christ was rich, yet for their sake He became poor, that they through His poverty might be rich.

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