Oriental Religions and Christianity Part 2

[Footnote 5: _Manual of India Missions._]

[Footnote 6: Similar views, though in briefer terms, have been presented by Rev. William A.P. Martin, D.D., of Peking; Rev. John L. Nevins, D.D., of Chefou; Rev. A.P. Happer, D.D., and Rev. B.C. Henry, D.D., of Canton; Professor John Wortabet, M.D., of Beyrout; Rev. Jacob Chamberlain, D.D., Missionary of the Reformed Church in Madras; Rev. Z.J. Jones, D.D., Missionary of the American M.E. Church at Bareilly, India; Rev. K.C.

Chattergee and Ram Chandra Bose, both converts from high caste Hinduism and both eminent ministers of the Gospel in India; and Rev. E.W. Blyden, D.D., the accomplished African scholar of Liberia.]

[Footnote 7: The _Japan Mail_ of September 30, 1891, in reviewing the progress of religious and philosophic discussion as carried on by the native press of the Empire, says: "The Buddhist literature of the season shows plainly the extent to which the educated members of the (Buddhist) priesthood are seeking to enlarge their grasp by contact with Western philosophy and religious thought. We happen to know that a prominent priest of the Shinsu sect is deeply immersed in Comte's humanitarianism.

In _Kyogaku-roushu_ (a native paper) are published instalments of Spencer's philosophy. Another paper, the _Hauseikwai_, has an article urging the desirability of a general union of all the (Buddhist) sects, such as Colonel Olcott brought about in India between the northern and the southern Buddhists."]

[Footnote 8: _Leaves from an Egyptian Note-book._]

[Footnote 9: Papers of Rev. Mr. Hewlett in the _Indian Evangelical Review_.]

[Footnote 10: In an address given in Tokio, by Rev. Mr. Knapp, of Boston, Buddhists in Japan were advised to build their religion of the future upon their own foundations, and not upon the teachings of Western propagandists.]

[Footnote 11: _The Twelve Buddhist Sects of Japan_, by Bunyiu Nanjio, Oxon.]

[Footnote 12: Quoted in _Manual of India Missions_.]

[Footnote 13: Quoted in _Manual of India Missions_.]

[Footnote 14: _Hulsean Lectures_, 1846.]

[Footnote 15: Private Thoughts on Religion, Part I., Article 2.]

[Footnote 16: Confucius not only taught that men should not do to others what they would not have done to them, but when one of his disciples asked him to name one word which should represent the whole duty of man, he replied "Reciprocity."]

[Footnote 17: Whoever will read the Preface of Mr. Spencer's work on Sociology will be surprised at the means which have been used in collecting and verifying supposed facts; a careful perusal of the book will show that all classes of testimony have been accepted, so far as they were favorable. Adventurers, reporters, sailors, and that upon the briefest and most casual observation, have been deemed capable of interpreting the religious beliefs of men. Even Peschel doubts many of their conclusions.]

[Footnote 18: See _Indian Wisdom_.]

[Footnote 19: Archbishop Trench, after speaking in his Hulsean lectures of the advantages which we may gain from an earnest study of the struggles of thoughtful men, who amid heathen darkness have groped after a knowledge of the true God, and of the gratitude which we ought to feel who have received a more sure word of prophecy, adds in words of rare beauty: "And perhaps it shall seem to us as if that star in the natural heavens which guided those Eastern sages from their distant home, was but the symbol of many a star which, in the world's mystical night, such as, being faithfully followed, availed to lead humble and devout hearts from far-off regions of superstition and error, till they knelt beside the cradle of the Babe of Bethlehem, and saw all their weary wanderings repaid in a moment, and all their desires finding a perfect fulfilment in Him."]



The coincidences of our present conquest of the non-Christian races with that to which the Apostolic Church was called are numerous and striking.

Not even one hundred years ago was the struggle with heathen error so similar to that of the early Church.

To a great extent the missionary efforts of the mediaeval centuries encountered only crude systems, which it was comparatively easy to overcome. The rude tribes of Northern Europe were converted by the Christianity of the later Roman Empire, even though they were conquerors. Their gods of war and brute force did not meet all the demands of life. As a source of hope and comfort, their religion had little to be compared with the Christian faith, and as to philosophy they had none. They had inherited the simple nature worship which was common to all branches of the Aryan race, and they had expanded it into various ramifications of polytheism; but they had not fortified it with subtle speculations like those of the Indo-Aryans, nor had their mythologies become intrenched in inveterate custom, and the national pride which attends an advanced civilization.

At a later day Christian missionaries in Britain found the Norse religion of the Saxons, Jutes, and Angles, scarcely holding the confidence of either rulers or subjects. They had valued their gods chiefly for the purposes of war, and they had not always proved reliable. The king of Northumbria, like Clovis of France, had vowed to exchange his deities for the God of the Christians if victory should be given him on a certain battle-field; and when he had assembled his thanes to listen to a discussion between the missionary Paulinus and the priests of Woden on the comparative merits of their respective faiths, the high priest frankly admitted his dissatisfaction with a religion which he had found utterly disappointing and useless; and when other chief counsellors had given the same testimony, and a unanimous vote had been taken to adopt the Christian faith, he was the first to commence the destruction of the idols.[20]

The still earlier missionaries among the Druid Celts of Britain and France, though they found in Druidism a more elaborate faith than that of the Norsemen, encountered no such resistance as we find in the great religious systems of our day. Where can we point to so easy a conquest as that of Patrick in Ireland, or that of the Monks of Iona among the Picts and Scots?

The Druids claimed that they already had many things in common with the Christian doctrines,[21] and what was a still stronger element in the case, they made common cause with the Christians against the wrongs inflicted on both by pagan Rome. The Roman emperors were not more determined to extirpate the hated and, as they thought, dangerous influences of Christianity, than they were to destroy every vestige of Druidism as their only hope of conquering the invincible armies of Boadicea. And thus the mutual experience of common sufferings opened a wide door for the advancement of Christian truth.

The conquests of Welsh and Irish missionaries in Burgundy, Switzerland, and _Germany_, encountered no elaborate book religions, and no profound philosophies. They had to deal with races of men who were formidable only with weapons of warfare, and who, intent chiefly on conquest and migration, had few institutions and no written historic records. The peaceful sceptre of the truth was a new force in their experience, and the sympathetic and self-denying labors of a few missionaries tamed the fierce Vikings to whom Britain had become a prey, and whose incursions even the armies of Charlemagne could not resist.

How different is our struggle with the races now under the sceptre of Islam, for example--inflated as they are with the pride of wide conquest, and looking contemptuously upon that Christian faith which it was their early mission to sweep away as a form of idolatry! How different is our task in India, which boasts the antiquity of the noble Sanskrit and its sacred literature, and claims, as the true representative of the Aryan race, to have given to western nations their philosophy, their religion, and their civilization! How much more difficult is our encounter with Confucianism, which claims to have laid the foundations of the most stable structure of social and political institutions that the world has ever known, and which to-day, after twenty-five centuries of trial, appeals to the intellectual pride of all intelligent classes in a great empire of four hundred millions! And finally, how different is our task with Buddhism, so mystical and abstruse, so lofty in many of its precepts, and yet so cold and thin, so flexible and easily adapted, and therefore so varied and many sided! The religious systems with which we are now confronted find their counterparts only in the heathenism with which the early Church had to deal many centuries ago; and for this reason the history of those early struggles is full of practical instruction for us now. How did the early Church succeed in its great conquest? What methods were adopted, and with what measures of success?

In one respect there is a wide difference in the two cases. The Apostles were attempting to convert their conquerors. They belonged to the vanquished race; they were of a despised nationality. The early fathers also were subjects of Pagan powers. Insomuch as the Roman emperors claimed divine honors, there was an element of treason in their propagandism. The terrible persecutions which so long devastated the early Church found their supposed justification in the plea of self-defence against a system which threatened to subvert cherished and time-honored institutions. Candid writers, like Archdeacon Farrar, admit that Christianity did hasten the overthrow of the Roman Empire.

But we find no conquering powers in our pathway. Christianity and Christian civilization have become dominant in the earth. The weakness of the Christian Church in its conquests now is not in being baffled and crippled by tyranny and persecution, but rather in the temptation to arrogance and the abuse of superior power, in the overbearing spirit shown in the diplomacy of Christian nations and the unscrupulous aggressions of their commerce. There is also a further contrast in the fact that in the early days the advantages of frugality and simple habits of life were on the side of the missionaries. Roman society especially was beginning to suffer that decay which is the inevitable consequence of long-continued luxury, while the Church observed temperance in all things and excelled in the virtues which always tend to moral and social victory.[22]

On the other hand, we who are the ambassadors to the heathen of to-day, are ourselves exposed to the dangers which result from wealth and excessive luxury. Our grade of life, our scale of expenditure, even the style in which our missionaries live, excites the amazement of the frugal heathen to whom they preach. And as for the Church at home, it is hardly safe for a Persian or a Chinaman to see it. Everyone who visits this wonderful eldorado carries back such romantic impressions as excite in others, not so much the love of the Gospel as the love of mammon.

When the Church went forth in comparative poverty, and with an intense moral earnestness, to preach righteousness, temperance, and the judgment to come; when those who were wealthy gave all to the poor--like Anthony of Egypt, Jerome, Ambrose, and Francis of Assisi--and in simple garments bore the Gospel to those who were surfeited with luxuries and pleasures, and were sick of a life of mere indulgence, then the truth of the Gospel conquered heathenism with all that the world could give. But whether a Church in the advanced civilization of our land and time, possessed of enormous wealth, enjoying every luxury, and ever anxious to gain more and more of this present world, can convert heathen races who deem themselves more frugal, more temperate, and less worldly than we, is a problem which remains to be solved. We have rare facilities, but we have great drawbacks. God's grace can overcome even our defects, and He has promised success.

But in the proud intellectual character of the systems encountered respectively by the ancient and by the modern Church, there are remarkable parallels. The supercilious pride of Brahminism, or the lofty scorn of Mohammedanism, is quite equal to that self-sufficient Greek philosophy in whose eyes the Gospel was the merest foolishness. And the immovable self-righteousness of the Stoics has its counterpart in the Confucianism of the Chinese literati. A careful comparison of the six schools of Hindu philosophy with the various systems of Greece and Rome, will fill the mind with surprise at the numerous correspondences--one might almost say identities. And that surprise is the greater from the fact that no proof exists that either has been borrowed from the other.

The atomic theory of creation advanced by Lucretius is found also in the Nyaya philosophy of the Hindus. The pessimism of Pliny and Marcus Aurelius was much more elaborately worked out by Gautama. The Hindus had their categories and their syllogisms as well as Aristotle. The conception of a dual principle in deity which the early Church traced in all the religious systems of Egypt, Phoenicia, and Assyria, and whose influence poisoned the life of the Phoenician colonies, and was so corrupting to the morals of Greece and Rome, was also elaborated by the Sankhya philosophy of Kapila, and it has plunged Hindu society into as deep a degradation as could be found in Pompeii or Herculaneum.[23] The Indian philosophy partook far more of the pantheistic element than that of Greece. Plato and Aristotle had clearer conceptions of the personality of the deity and of the distinct and responsible character of the human soul than any school of Hindu philosophers--certainly clearer than the Vedantists, and their ethics involved a stronger sense of sin.

German philosophy has borrowed its pantheism from India rather than from Greece, and in its most shadowy developments it has never transcended the ancient Vedantism of Vyasa.

As in the early centuries, so in our time, different systems of religion have been commingled and interwoven into protean forms of error more difficult to understand and dislodge than any one of the faiths and philosophies of which they were combined. As the Alexandrian Jews intertwined the teachings of Judaism and Platonism; as Manichaeans and Gnostics corrupted the truths of the Old and New Testaments with ideas borrowed from Persian mysticism; as various eclectic systems gathered up all types of thought which the wide conquests of the Roman Empire brought together, and mingled them with Christian teachings; so now the increased intercommunication, and the quickened intellectual activity of our age have led to the fusion of different systems, ancient and modern, in a negative and nerveless religion of humanity. We now have in the East not only Indian, but Anglo-Indian, speculations. The unbelieving Calcutta graduate has Hegel and Spinoza interwoven with his Vedantism, and the eclectic leader of the Brahmo Somaj, while placing Christ at the head of the prophets and recognizing the authority of all sacred bibles of the races, called on Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Mohammedans to unite in one theistic church of the New Dispensation in India. Not even the old Gnostics could present so striking an admixture as that of the Arya Somaj. It has appropriated many of those Christian ethics which have been learned from a century of contact with missionaries and other Christian residents. It has approved the more humane customs and reforms of Christendom, denouncing caste, and the degradation of woman. It has repudiated the corrupt rites and the degrading superstitions of Hinduism. At the same time its hatred of the Christian faith is most bitter and intense.

And there are other alliances, not a few, between the East and the West.

In India and Japan the old Buddhism is compounded with American Spiritualism and with modern Evolution, under a new application of the ancient name of Theosophy. In Japan representatives of advanced Unitarianism are exhorting the Japanese Buddhists to build the religion of the future on their old foundations, and to avoid the propagandists of western Christianity.

The bland and easy-going catholicity which professes so much in our day, which embraces all faiths and unfaiths in one sweet emulsion of meaningless negations, which patronizes the Christ and His doctrines, and applies the nomenclature of Christianity to doctrines the very opposite of its teachings, finds a counterpart in the smooth and vapid compromises of the old Gnostics. "Gnosticism," says Uhlhorn, "combined Greek philosophies, Jewish theology, and ancient Oriental theosophy, thus forming great systems of speculative thought, all with the object of displaying the world's development. From a pantheistic First Cause, Gnosticism traced the emanation of a series of aeons--beings of Light.

The source of evil was supposed to be matter, which in this material world holds light in captivity. To liberate the light and thus redeem the world, Christ came, and thus Christianity was added as the crowning and victorious element in this many-sided system of speculation. But Christ was regarded not so much as a Saviour of individual souls as an emancipator of a disordered kosmos, and the system which seemed to accord great honor to Christianity threatened to destroy its life and power." So, according to some of our Modern Systems, men are to find their future salvation in the grander future of the race.[24]

Not only do we encounter mixtures of truth and error, but we witness similar attempts to prove that whatever is best in Christianity was borrowed from heathenism. Porphyry and others maintained that Pythagoras and Theosebius had anticipated many of the attributes and deeds of Christ, and Philostratus was prompted by the wife of Severus to write a history of Appolonius of Tyana which should match the life of Christ.

And in precisely the same way it has been variously claimed in our time that the story of Christ's birth, childhood, and ministry were borrowed from Buddha and from Krishna, and that the whole conception of his vicarious suffering for the good of men is a clever imitation of Prometheus Bound. Now, in the earlier conflict it was important to know the facts on both sides in order to meet these allegations of Porphyry, Marinus, and others, and it is equally important to understand the precise ground on which similar charges are made with equal assurance now.[25] The very same old battles are to be fought over again, both with philosophy and with legend.

And it is very evident that, with so many points of similarity between the early struggle of Christianity with heathenism and that of our own time, it is quite worth our labor to inquire what were the general methods then pursued. Then victory crowned the efforts of the Church.

That which humanly speaking seemed impossible, was actually accomplished. From our finite standpoint, no more preposterous command was ever given than that which Christ gave to his little company of disciples gathered in the mountains of Galilee, or that last word before his ascension on Mt. Olivet, in which He placed under their responsible stewardship, not only Jerusalem, but all Judea and Samaria, and the "uttermost parts of the earth." The disciples were without learning or social influence, or political power. They had no wealth and few facilities, and so far as they knew there were no open doors. They were hated by their Jewish countrymen, ridiculed by the ubiquitous and cultured Greeks, and frowned upon by the conquering powers of Rome. How then did they succeed? How was it that in three or four centuries they had virtually emptied the Roman Pantheon of its heathen deities, and had gained the sceptre of the empire and the world?

It is easy to misapprehend the forces which won the victory. The disciples first chosen to found the Church were fishermen, but that affords no warrant for the belief that only untutored men were employed in the early Church, or for the inference that the Salvation Army are to gain the conquest now. They were inspired; these are not; and a few only were chosen, with the very aim of setting at naught the intolerant wisdom of the Pharisees. But when the Gospel was to be borne to heathen races, to the great nations whose arrogance was proportionate to their learning and their power, a very different man was selected. Saul of Tarsus had almost every needed qualification seen from a human point of view. Standing, as he must, between the stiff bigotry of Judaism and the subtleties of Greek philosophy, he was fortunately familiar with both.

He was a man of rare courtesy, and yet of matchless courage. Whether addressing a Jewish governor or the assembled philosophers and counsellors of Athens, he evinced an unfailing tact. He knew how to conciliate even a common mob of heathen idolators and when to defy a high priest, or plead the immunities of his Roman citizenship before a Roman proconsul.

In tracing the methods of the early Church in dealing with heathenism, we begin, therefore, with Paul; for although he was differentiated from all modern parallels by the fact that he was inspired and endowed with miraculous power, yet that does not invalidate the force of those general principles of action which he illustrated. He was the first and greatest of all missionaries, and through all time it will be safe and profitable to study his characteristics and his methods. He showed the value of thorough training in his own faith, and of a full understanding of all the errors he was to contend with. He could reason with Jews out of their own Scriptures, or substantiate his position with Greeks by citing their own poets. He was certainly uncompromising in maintaining the sovereignty of the one God, Jehovah, but he was not afraid to admit that in their blind way the heathen were also groping after the same supreme Father of all. The unknown God at Athens he accepted as an adumbration of Him whom he proclaimed, and every candid reader must admit that in quoting the words of Aratus, which represent Zeus as the supreme creator whose offspring we are, he conveys the impression of a real resemblance, if not a partial and obscured identity.

The essential principle here is that Paul frankly acknowledged whatever glimpses of truth he found in heathen systems, and made free use of them in presenting the fuller and clearer knowledge revealed in the Gospel.

No man ever presented a more terrible arraignment of heathenism than that which he makes in the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans, and yet, with marvellous discrimination he proceeds, in the second chapter, to show how much of truth God has imparted to the understandings and the consciences of all men. And he seems to imply the Holy Spirit's regenerative work through Christ's atonement, when he maintains that whoever shall, "by patient continuance in well doing, seek glory and immortality," to him shall "eternal life" be given; but "tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile." Peter was not prepared to be a missionary till he had been divested of his Jewish narrowness by witnessing the power of grace in the Roman centurion at Cesarea. That widened out his horizon immensely. He saw that God in his ultimate plan was no respecter of persons or of races.

There has been great difference of opinion as to whether the annual worship of the supreme God of Heaven in the great imperial temple at Peking is in any degree a relic of the worship of the true God once revealed to mankind. Such Chinese scholars as Martin and Legge and Douglass think that it is; others deny it. Some men raise a question whether the Allah of the Mohammedan faith is identical with the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Sales, the profoundest expositor of Islam, considers him the same. Moslems themselves have no doubt of it: the intent of the Koran is that and nothing else; Old Testament teachings are interwoven with almost every sura of its pages. I think that Paul would have conceded this point at once, and would the more successfully have urged the claims of Jesus, whom the Koran presents as the only sinless prophet. Of course Mohammedans do not recognize the Triune God as we now apprehend Him, from the New Testament standpoint; neither did ancient believers of Israel fully conceive of God as He has since been more fully revealed in the person and the sacrifice of his Son--Jesus Christ.

Both the teachings and the example of Paul seem to recognize the fact that conceptions of God, sometimes clear and sometimes dim, may exist among heathen nations; and many of the great Christian fathers evidently took the same view. They admitted that Plato's noble teachings were calculated to draw the soul toward God, though they revealed no real access to Him such as is found in Christ. Archbishop Trench, in his Hulsean lectures on "Christ the Desire of the Nations," dwells approvingly upon Augustine's well-known statement, that he had been turned from vice to an inspiring conception of God by reading the "Hortensius" of Cicero. Augustine's own reference to the fact is found in the fourth book of his "Confessions," where he says: "In the ordinary course of study I fell upon a certain book of Cicero whose speech almost all admire--not so his heart. This book contains an exhortation to philosophy, and is called 'Hortensius.' But this book altered my affections and turned my prayers to Thyself, O Lord, and made me have other purposes and desires. Every vain hope at once became worthless to me, and I longed with an incredible burning desire for an immortality of wisdom, and began now to arise that I might return to Thee. For not to sharpen my tongue did I employ that book: nor did it infuse into me its style, but its matter."

The "Hortensius" of Cicero has not survived till our time, and we know not what it contained; but we cannot fail to notice this testimony of a mature and eminent saint to the spiritual benefit which he had received at the age of thirty-one, from reading the works of a heathen philosopher. And a most interesting proof is here furnished for the freedom with which the Spirit of God works upon the hearts of men, and the great variety of means and agencies which He employs,--and that beyond the pale of the Christian Church, and even beyond the actual knowledge of the historic Christ. It would be interesting to know whether the regeneration of Augustine occurred just then, when he says in such strong language, that this book altered his affections and turned his prayers unto God, and made him "long with an indescribable burning desire for an immortality of wisdom." All men are saved, if at all, by the blood of Christ through the renewing of the Holy Ghost; but what was the position of such men as Augustine and Cornelius of Cesarea before they fully and clearly saw Jesus as the actual Messiah, and as the personal representative of that Grace of God in which they had already reposed a general faith, is at least an interesting question.

Not less positive is the acknowledgment which Augustine makes of the benefits which he had received from Plato. And he mentions many others, as Virgininus, Lactantius, Hilary, and Cyprian, who, like himself, having once been heathen and students of heathen philosophy, had, as he expresses it, "spoiled the Egyptians, bringing away with them rich treasures from the land of bondage, that they might adorn therewith the true tabernacle of the Christian faith." Augustine seems to have been fond of repeating both this argument and this his favorite illustration.

In his "Doctrine of Christ" he expands it more fully than in his "Confessions." He says: "Whatever those called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, may have said conformable to our faith, is not only not to be dreaded, but is to be claimed from them as unlawful possessors, to our use. For, as the Egyptians not only had idols and heavy burdens which the people of Israel were to abhor and avoid, but also vessels and ornaments of gold and silver and apparel which that people at its departure from Egypt privily assumed for a better use, not on its own authority but at the command of God, the very Egyptians unwittingly furnishing the things which themselves used not well; so all the teaching of the Gentiles not only hath feigned and superstitious devices, and heavy burdens of a useless toil, which we severally, as under the leading of Christ we go forth out of the fellowship of the Gentiles, ought to abhor and avoid, but it also containeth liberal arts, fitter for the service of truth, and some most useful moral precepts; as also there are found among them some truths concerning the worship of the One God Himself, as it were their gold and silver which they did not themselves form, but drew from certain veins of Divine Providence running throughout, and which they perversely and wrongfully abuse to the service of demons. These, the Christian, when he severs himself from their wretched fellowship, ought to take from them for the right use of preaching of the Gospel. For what else have many excellent members of our faith done? See we not how richly laden with gold and silver and apparel that most persuasive teacher and most blessed martyr, Cyprian, departed out of Egypt? Or Lactantius, or Victorinus, Optatus, Hilary, not to speak of the living, and Greeks innumerable? And this, Moses himself, that most faithful servant of God, first did, of whom it is written, that 'he was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.'"

Chapter end

Courier New
Comic Sans MS
Oh o, this user has not set a donation button.
lingua italiana
Русский язык
Novel Cool
Read thousands of novels online
Success Warn New Timeout NO YES Summary More details Please rate this book Please write down your comment Reply Follow Followed This is the last chapter. Are you sure to delete? Account We've sent email to you successfully. You can check your email and reset password. You've reset your password successfully. We're going to the login page. Read Your cover's min size should be 160*160px Your cover's type should be .jpg/.jpeg/.png This book hasn't have any chapter yet. This is the first chapter This is the last chapter We're going to home page. * Book name can't be empty. * Book name has existed. At least one picture Book cover is required Please enter chapter name Create Successfully Modify successfully Fail to modify Fail Error Code Edit Delete Just Are you sure to delete? This volume still has chapters Create Chapter Fold Delete successfully Please enter the chapter name~ Then click 'choose pictures' button Are you sure to cancel publishing it? Picture can't be smaller than 300*300 Failed Name can't be empty Email's format is wrong Password can't be empty Must be 6 to 14 characters