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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

Christianity and Christian Formality

page 307

Christianity and Christian Formality.

When you see old Mr. Goodness, an unpretending man, honest, industrious, open-hearted, pure in his life, full of justice and mercy and kind deeds, you say, "That man is a Christian, if anybody is." You do not ask what he thinks about Jonah and the whale, about the beast with seven heads and ten horns, the plagues of Egypt, the inspiration of the Bible, the nature of Christ, or the miraculous atonement. You see that man's religion in the form of manly life; you ask no further proof, and no other proof is possible. When you say you wish Christianity could get preached and practised all round the world, thereby you do not mean the Christianity of Calvin or Luther; you mean that religion which is natural to the heart of man, the ideal piety and morality which mankind aims at. But when the Rev. Doctor Banbaby speaks of Brother Zerubbabel Zealous as a great Christian, he means no such thing. He means that Zerubbabel has been baptised,—sprinkled or dipped,—that he believes in the Trinity, in the infallible inspiration of every word in the Bible, in the miracles, no matter how ridiculous or unattested; that he believes in the total depravity of human nature, in the atonement, in the omnipresence of a personal devil, going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, and eternally champing in his insatiate maw nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every thousand, while God, and Christ, and the Holy Ghost, can only succeed in saving one out of a thousand—perhaps one out of a million. Banbaby reckons him a Christian because he has been "born again," "put off the natural man,"—that is, made away with his common sense and common humanity so far as to believe these absurd things,—draws down the corners of his mouth, attends theological meetings, makes long prayers in words, reads the books of his sect, gives money for ecclesiastical objects, and pays attention to ecclesiastical forms. He does not think old Mr. Goodness's long life of industry, temperance, charity, patriotism, justice, brotherly love, profits him at all. He is only an unregenerate, impenitent man, who trusts in his own righteousness, leans on an arm of flesh, has been born but once, and will certainly perish everlastingly. It is of no sort of consequence that Zerubbabel is a sharper, and has ships in the coolie trade. Old Mr. Goodness's "righteousness" is regarded as "filthy rags," while Zerubbabel's long face and long prayers are held to be a ticket entitling him to the very highest seat in the kingdom of heaven. At the Monthly Concert for Foreign Missions the Rev. Doctor leads in prayer, and Brother Zerubbabel follows. Both ask the same thing,—the Christianisation of heathen lands. But they do not mean that form of the Christian religion which is piety in the heart and morality in the outer life. They mean compliance with the popular theology, not the Christian religion proclaimed in those grand words, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbour as thyself," and illustrated by a life as grand as the words. They mean the Christian formality, as set forth in the little creed, and illustrated by the lesser conduct of a very mean, bigoted, and yet earnest and self-denying sect.—Theodore Parker.