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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27

The Christian Religion not the Religion of Christ

The Christian Religion not the Religion of Christ.

"The Christian religion has existed for more than eighteen hundred years. The religion of Christ has yet to be tried. The contest lies between the Christian religion and the religion of Jesus Christ; the religion of which Jesus is the object, or that of which Christ is the subject." The contrast which these words of Lessing vividly express brings us into the presence of the most portentous fact, as it appears to me, of this age of the world—a fact so fraught with pain and perplexity that I should be glad if I were able to pass it by. But I cannot do so, for it contains in itself the answer to the question which I have undertaken the attempt to solve.

I assume that the founder of Christianity intended to establish a church, an organisation which should propagate and should for ever maintain His doctrine throughout the world. The positive evidence of such intention is slight; the antecedent probability in favour of it is strong. The best and the most fruitful thoughts are usually the most evanescent, and when they are lost it is difficult to regain them. The saying of Wordsworth,

"'Tis hard to keep
Heights which the soul is competent to gain,

"is proved by the history of systems of religious thought to be equally true as applied to communities and to individuals. And the higher the ideal, the more difficult it is to propagate; the broader and more comprehensive the principle, the harder it is to apply it to the minute and ever-varying circumstances of practical life. It is unquestionably true that the religion taught by the founder of Christianity avowedly claims a right to hold absolute and exclusive control over all the faculties of the human mind, and to employ them continually in their fullest energy. To communicate a religion of so exalted and exacting a character to nations who were ignorant of it, and afterwards to keep its claims constantly before the minds of those who should adopt it, as well as to supply the means of applying its principles to the new and more complex events and circumstances of advancing civilisation, might well be supposed to require a permanent teaching organisation of some kind.

page 18

Of the intended form of the church, whether it was to be art independent and separate body, or whether it was to be identical with the State, the civil head of the community presumed to be united by the bond of a common faith, we have no knowledge. Certainly no system of government was fixed by the founder of the church, no ritual was prescribed, no form of common prayer was directed, but only a closet prayer, constructed, according to Wetstein, almost verbatim out of the Talmud. Everything except the central dogma and the rules of life dependent on it was left at large, and free to adjust itself to the different characters and habits and the varying conditions of each nationality and age. How instructive is this majestic silence in the Founder of a religion that was to affect so largely the destinies of mankind! How deep the debt of gratitude due from all who acknowledge His authority for the liberty with which He intended to make and to keep them free!