WHAT IS CHRISTIANITY?
WHAT is Christianity?
The question seems a belated one.
It never was more pertinent than now. Its pertinency rests upon two facts.
First: the modern drift in Christianity and its absolute failure.
Second: the phenomenal triumph of primitive Christianity.
The modern drift is antagonistic to doctrine and repudiates the miraculous.
It sets aside the virgin birth, has no toleration for atonement by sacrificial death, and positively refuses to accept the bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It holds that God is the Father of all men. Each man is inherently a son of God. He has in him all the elements of the divine lineage. Exercise and culture are alone needed to reveal these elements and demonstrate this lineage. Salvation is not the redemption of a child of the Devil, but recovery of a child of God from the hands of the Devil. Salvation is the restoration of the individual to the consciousness of this relationship; but salvation is effectively individual only as it is primarily social. The time has passed (so we are told) when the individual may be discussed and his social condition ignored. To seek out an individual here and there and endeavor to redeem or recover him while the environment remains unchanged, is a waste of force: as foolish as it would be to spend millions on remedies for people sick with malaria in a pestilential and malarial district, and ignore the condition of the district. True wisdom would demand first of all that the district be purged, the environment made healthy, the cause of malaria destroyed.
Human beings are neither sinning nor suffering because a possible first man away back somewhere ate forbidden fruit at the insistent appeal of his too persistent wife. Men are sinning and suffering because social conditions are all wrong. These wrong conditions fill the multitude with discouragement and depression. They are unable to breathe an inspiring life force. They cannot obtain sufficient impulse to live above low levels. The laws, the customs, the inequalities of life, hedge them like brutes in a corral. This corralling and hedging of humanity en masse, while the few pull away from the crowd and create an environment satisfactory to themselves at the expense of the crowd, is the raison d'etre for all evil conditions. Let us have right legislation. Let us make right laws. The moment the social condition enables a man to discover the divine things in him, he will live right by preference. We are no longer to spend eloquence, prayer and time on revivals, and now and then, here and there, get an individual to live fairly right in spite of hindering conditions. The sermon of the preacher should appeal to the law-maker rather than to the law-breaker; it should arouse men, not to the danger of a hell far off, but to a hell near at hand, the hell of unjust laws, of sanitary neglect, of oppression of man by man.
Social redemption! that is the watchword.
Social salvation! that is the crying need.
All this (we are told) is to be accomplished by appealing to the divine in man, to his hitherto ignored resources. This appeal can be made of avail only by setting up some human figure in which this divine life has been fully proved and clearly portrayed. In the nature of the case, for a modernist Christian, such a person is to be found alone in our Lord Jesus Christ. By such he is now hailed, and continually announced, as the advanced man, the quintessent demonstration of evolution as applied to humanity, the way-shower, the exemplar and true copy. He is incarnate altruism. His whole life was self-denial. His daily interest was in social conditions. To him society was the objective, the individual an incident. His teachings, when fairly construed, involve the overthrow of the old, and the bringing in of a radically new society, in which the divine life in man may have an opportunity to unfold. His doctrines, when analyzed, are explosive; if practically carried out would be revolutionary. He is, in short, the true socialist. If we follow him as such, if we work out his intent, we shall have individual salvation, but we shall have it as a consequent of social redemption.
There may be shining worlds beyond this. There may be holy cities with golden streets. There may be robes of righteousness and trees of life. What we need to do, as Christians, is to take care of the world in which we now live, build first-class holy cities here, see that the streets are well paved, and the sewers in order, put fit clothing on the backs of the poor, fill the mouths of the hungry with actual bread, make the hours of labor minimum, and the hours of personal culture maximum, and thus weave a garment of civic, social and individual righteousness that shall stand the test of this world or any other. In other words, we are to live the life that now is -- and let that which is to come take care of itself.
This is the trend of the modern drift.
It is an endeavor to bring the church down out of the clouds, place it on the level of human experience, meet present human needs in practical ways, and establish a system of natural, rational and universal ethics.
And yet -- in spite of this widely heralded liberalism; in spite of the effort to accommodate itself to the rationalism, the unbelief and downright infidelity of the hour; in spite of the determination to cut loose from the primaries of the first century and ally itself with the fast-going advance of the twentieth, this movement in the name of Christianity has not succeeded in winning and holding the multitude either to a personal and modified Christ, or to a reorganized and elastic church.
The churches in which it flourishes; the churches which have renounced faith in the supernatural and miraculous; the churches which have swung the doors wide open on the hinges of worldly wisdom and easy tolerance; the churches which have substituted natural generation for supernatural regeneration, evolution instead of revolution, the working out of human life, instead of the coming in of divine life; the churches which teach that man is to go up and take hold of God, instead of God coming down to take hold on man; the churches which are broad enough to allow men of all faiths, and men of no faith at all, to occupy their pulpits, are not overcrowded, nor have righteousness and holiness extraordinarily increased in their neighborhood.
On the contrary, in face of every effort to conciliate the naturalism in man, men look upon these churches, and the Christianity they advocate, with suspicion. They see these churches have their goods still marked with the words, |supernatural,| |miraculous.| It is true, these churches may practically put such goods out of sight; even then, men will not be attracted beyond the expression of a condescending tolerance; and while admitting, as they will, that the church is earnestly endeavoring to get rid of its ancient incubus of theology, free its hands and take hold of the plow handle of progress, ready, if needs be, to drive a furrow deep enough to bury all memories of primitive faith, yet will they turn away from that kind of a church and that sort of Christianity, with the feeling that all this action on the part of the church is but another feeble effort at competitive morality. They will turn from it and seek their own organizations wherein no issue of the supernatural has ever been raised; where the quasi personality and questionable existence of an unseen God are not at all discussed; and where man and his present life are the only subjects deemed worthy of consideration.
If this drift as thus indicated shall continue another ten years, and enlist the support and open advocacy of leading and representative thinkers in the church; if the theological seminaries shall continue to turn out on graduation day, with their all too mechanical regularity, men who do not believe in the virgin birth, who find no real reason why our Lord Jesus Christ should have died at all, except the fatality of his genius that he was too far ahead of his time and was |caught by the whirling wheel of the world's evil and torn in pieces|; if the repudiation of the Bible as the final and inerrant revelation of God for this age shall continue so short a space as a decade, by that time, at the present rate of development, we shall have not only a very modern Christianity, a Christianity without miracles, without even a hint of the supernatural, but a Christianity without spiritual power or moral authority, standing as a delinquent on the street corners, and amid the hurry and rush of more vital things, begging permission simply to exist.
Over against this modern drift and its amplitude of failure stands the phenomenal success of original and primitive Christianity.
And yet, the conditions which confronted this nascent faith were appalling.
It was the era of materialism. Force was the prime minister, self -gratification the supreme legislator. Exaggerated superstition was balanced by decaying faith. It was a time of coordinately high mental activity, an intellectuality that cynically rejoiced at its own failure to solve the riddle of the universe, maliciously suggested new difficulties, raised barriers against its own research, and prostrating itself in the name of mere brutism, worshipped nature as the ready panderer to its worst passions, while owning it as a cruelly smiling and pitiless sphinx.
The one hundred and twenty men and women who faced the Roman world with the determination to impinge their faith upon it, seemed the most audaciously unwise of all forlorn and hopeless fanatics. They had neither wealth nor social standing. Their culture was at zero, their knowledge indifferent. Localism and tradition environed them, and the story they had to tell was not only an affront to the course of nature, but a direct repudiation of old faiths and cherished religions. Itself a religio illicita, Christianity challenged governmental law and invoked, logically, the keenest persecution. The mountains which surrounded Jerusalem were not so high, nor so difficult of ascent, as the prejudice far and near over which they needs must climb, even if they would gain but a tolerated hearing.
Yet they went forth! and so preached, that they not only saved and transfigured individuals, but so molded and transformed society, that in its every-day achievements, Christianity itself seemed like a miracle to astonished and silenced onlookers.
Startlingly enough this moulding of society, this overturning of old conditions -- this bringing in of the radically new, so that their enemies said of them they had |turned the world upside down|; this repudiation of brutality and the exaltation of unselfishness; this building up of a condition in which a community now judged itself by the standards of chastity, righteousness and neighborly kindness; this renovation of whole centres of life till the erstwhile deserts wherein not a flower of gentleness had bloomed, now blossomed as gardens of delight, watered with never-ceasing streams of brotherly love -- were produced, not by an appeal to society itself, not by denunciation of laws and customs, however bad, but by laying hold of a human soul, estimating it in value by the weight of a whole world, and changing the individual life.
This was the triumph of original and primitive Christianity.
In view of such a triumph and the unqualified failure of the modern drift which claims the name of Christianity, it should seem a perfectly legitimate and altogether pertinent question to ask,
|What is Christianity?|
The answer is given by the apostle Paul in his second letter to Timothy, his son in the faith, the preacher of his own ordination. He says:
|Our Saviour Jesus Christ . . . has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.| (2 Timothy 1:10.)
According to this declaration, the Gospel is the good news that our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to accomplish three things -- abolish death, bring in a new life and reveal immortality. As the Gospel is the heart beat of Christianity, then the three things which proclaim its constituent and objective characteristic are:
The abolition of death.
The gift of a new life.
First -- The abolition of death.
Death is a black fact. It is the shadow the sun never penetrates, the robber who steals the treasure more precious than gold, the guest who never waits to be invited, the intruder who feels at home whether in palace or in cot, has no respect of persons, and lays his hand with equal familiarity on the king upon his throne, or the tramp by the wayside, saying |come| to the sick, |tarry not| to the well, is sure of the old, and revels like a reaper in the harvest of the young. It breaks the plans and disorganizes the relations of life; and then, like a coarse comedian or a heartless satirist, compels those who survive to turn away from the memory of their dead, reorganize their lives and live on as though those who once lived with them and formed an intimate part of their daily experience had never existed.
Unless God himself shall intervene, death is the certain end of the longest life.
Side by side with the certainty of death are two things which give it emphasis: the brevity of life and its uncertainty.
How brief it is! what are sixty or seventy years as measured by hopes and fears, by splendor of genius, by forecasts that outreach the ages, by thoughts that climb and climb with ease to the infinite, by energy of mind, which, rising superior to the combined hindrances of every day, is always peering beyond the last endeavor, and stretching itself towards unbroken continuance, cries, |What next?| Extract from the allotted time of three score years and ten, the puling days of infancy, the immature years of youth, the hours of indecision as to the route to take, the right profession to follow; take the hours given to eating and drinking (that eating and drinking which in spite of the glamor we throw about it is simply repairing the mechanical waste and renewing the chemical energy that will enable us to go on a little while and a little way farther); take out the time spent in sleep -- in practical nonentity -- and the remainder is a pitiful handful of years, so few, that to number them seems like a mathematical mockery, like numerical trifling.
And the uncertainty of life! What man is he who can assure himself of ten days? In that time he may die, be buried and be forgotten by the world that scarcely heard the tolling of his funeral bell, and had no time to stay and hear the falling of the grave clods upon the coffin lid.
This emphasis of brevity and uncertainty has affected men more or less from the beginning. In the hour when Christianity was born it affected them well nigh unto delirium. So brief was the vision of life, so tumultuous its incidents, so conscious were men of its uncertainty, that they played with it as gamblers throw dice. It became cheap, cheaper than the ground in which their bodies were so soon to be laid; and in derision of its cheapness they built great monuments to hold their scattered dust, monuments that should outlast by centuries their latest breath; with light laughter they rode past these chiselled tombs and scorned themselves as the builders of a longevity their own being could never know.
This fact of death is impressing men now.
In proportion as life increases in knowledge; in proportion as men become masters of nature's forces; in proportion as they measure the universe, make daily incursions therein, and bring back always some conquered thing, some new discovery as a tribute to the limitlessness of mind, in this proportion the unequal brevity and the disintegrating uncertainty of life, lead men to ask with more and more insistence, whether, after all, it is worth while. Is it worth while to carry burdens which force us to look down into the dust of the highway, and not up and out to the wider landscape? Is it worth while to put so much force of soul and spirit, brain and heart into things from which we may be summoned without a moment's notice? Is it worth while to live, and then go to pieces through the effort at living, live on day after day like a machine out of gear (held together oftentimes only by the surgeon's skill), then break down completely, give a final sigh and be hurried away to add a lot of useless fragments to the already accumulated scrap heap of the still more useless graveyard?
Into this emphasis of brevity and uncertainty, there enters another element which increasingly raises the question -- |Is it worth while?|
That added element is the silence of the grave.
The grave is terribly silent.
You can hear the gravel rattling out of the grave digger's shovel with a thud upon the coffin lid; or, you can hear the crunching, jarring sound as the casket is slid into its place in the receiving vault, and you can hear the turn of the key and the snap of the bolt as the gate or door of the sepulchre is shut and locked.
You may stand above the simple mound of the churchyard, in front of some monumental shaft, or before the sculptured urn; it may be the dust of a king, a scholar, or some nameless beggar which is heaped within -- the silence will be unbroken -- except by the sound of your own voice as you ask:
|Where are they? What are they? ARE they?|
Although the sun may be shining in full splendor over row after row of graves, no light will be there in which to read the answer to your questions.
Instead of light there will be thick darkness upon the graves, and gross darkness within.
Men peer into this darkness. There is no vision -- no speech -- and they ask: |Is it worth while to toil, to labor, to accumulate, to make great advance in knowledge, to build higher every day the conning towers of science, and then leaving these high points of achievement, enter into that realm where no surveyor's chain has ever measured the extent, where no geographer has ever named a headland, and where the one supreme fact that meets us on the threshold is ignorance -- a black, blinding, all-pervading ignorance as to the next moment after death; so that at the end of our reasoning, deduction and amplification, the one thing remaining to the scholar and the fool alike concerning death is a guess, a guess in which the wish of existence is father to the thought, but where the hope of to-morrow is, easily, the despair of to-day.|
With life so brief, so uncertain, and ending in the starless night of silence, men in one form of utterance or another are, in substance, calling to each other and saying, |Let us eat and drink -- for to-morrow we die.|
Thus the contemplation of death and its impartial and unprejudiced analysis leads to a belief in materialism and a greater or less surrender to mere sensualism; for, if men cannot go up they will go down; if they cannot live in the spirit, they will grovel in the flesh.
What then shall we say concerning this fact of death?
Shall we say it is a part of nature's economy -- as legitimate as birth? Because we know nothing of any pre-existent state and are content to go forward in life, shall we now balk and hesitate to discharge our functions or meet our opportunities, because we have no evidence of an after existence?
Is death really natural?
Absolutely it is not!
The whole being of man revolts against it, morally, intellectually and organically. Every law of nature in man is against it. Pain and suffering are its protest. To say that it is as natural as birth is to be guilty of pure bathos; even the worm crushed and quivering denies the sentiment. Schwann, the author of the cellular theory, says: |I really do not know why we die.|
There is no reason in nature.
The process which renews the body every seven years -- so far as any law in nature shows -- might go on indefinitely; there is no reason in itself why it should cease, and the soul within is never conscious of the added years. No one ever thinks of asking, |Why do we live?| Always, and involuntarily, we ask, |Why do we die?| Always we are seeking to continue life, inventing something to make it immune from death. To live, therefore, is natural. Not to live is unnatural. Being unnatural, it is an interference with nature. An interference with nature is superior to nature. That which is an interference of and superior to nature is a direct imposition upon nature. An imposition upon nature could not be possible without the permission and will of God. If God allows and wills it, then the imposition is for cause; being such, it is a judicial act, a judgment, and becomes, necessarily, a penalty. Penalty stands for violated law. Violated law is transgression. Transgression is sin. Sin, in final analysis, is lawlessness, and lawlessness is treason against Jehovah. Death is, therefore, an imposition of God, and is his penalty against the treason of sin.
This, then, is the explanation of death -- it is the penalty of sin.
This is the definition which Christianity gives -- as it is written: |By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men.| (Romans 5:12.)
Again it is written:
|It is appointed unto men once to die.| (Hebrews 9:27.)
In thus determining and defining death, Christianity reveals both its essence and its mission; for, through its Gospel, Christianity brings the good news that the issue of sin and death as between God and man has been settled by our Lord Jesus Christ; that he has settled it perfectly and forever according to the terms of divine righteousness by dying as a sacrifice for sin and as a substitute for sinners.
In order to be a substitute it was necessary that our Lord Jesus Christ should be a sinless man; otherwise, his death would be only his own execution under the penalty of sin, and could not avail either for himself or others. None of Adam's race is sinless; a sinless person must be of another race. To be of another race and be human would require a new creation and would be a new and distinct humanity.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was sinless. He was, therefore, of a new and distinct humanity. In incarnation, God did not take the humanity of Adam into union with himself, the humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ was the repudiation of the humanity of Adam. By that incarnation God was saying: |I have tried the old humanity. I find nothing in it that responds to my claims. At its best it is sinful, only sinful and fit for judgment -- the end of all flesh is come before me -- and that end is death.|
The humanity of Christ is, therefore, not an evolution, but a new creation; it is not an invitation to the natural man, but a condemnation of him. It does not say to him, |Follow me, imitate me and you will be like me|; it says: |I am from above, ye are from below. I am from heaven and God -- ye are from the earth. My humanity is as distinct from yours as the heavens are from the earth.|
Such a man is not an example, a copy to be set before men.
And never, not once, do the apostles so set him before the natural man. Always they set him before the natural man as the man who came into the world -- not to live as an example -- but to die as a sacrifice for men; as one who was fit to die because he was free from the stain and penalty of sin.
But in order that the death of Christ should be of infinite value, he must himself be an infinite person. The value of a deed depends upon the person who does it. The quality resides not alone in the act, but in the actor. The value of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ is not to be measured by its duration, but by himself -- by what he was in himself; it does not depend upon the length of time in which as a substitute he suffered the punishment of those whose place he was taking, but the essential quality of his person. Did our Lord suffer but a moment of time on the cross, the value of his suffering as a satisfaction to the law, government and being of God would be infinite.
An infinite person is God.
Always as such do the apostles present our Lord Jesus Christ. Their testimony to his deity rings out like the blast of far-sounding trumpets. In terms that are precise, and so strong and clear that he who runs may read, they proclaim that he is God of God, very God of very God.
As God the Son, in co-operation with God the Father and God the Spirit, he who is presented to us as the Lord Jesus Christ, took a cell from the substance of the virgin Mary, made it a mould and with generating power wrought from it a real humanity -- a new and distinct humanity -- and united it to his eternal personality; so that he stands forth as the eternal God endowed with a human nature -- with two natures, human and divine, in one body and one person forever -- the infinite God-man.
Never do the apostles present him as a mere man. They present his humanity as the background for his deity. His humanity in its most literal revelation is always declared by them to be the revelation and the manifestation of God. Never do the apostles attempt to reason about the incarnation, with superb affirmation and sublime dignity they declare, |Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifest in the flesh.|
And it is this God whom Christianity presents as coming down from the heaven of glory, and clothing himself with a new, a distinct, but a mortal humanity in which to die as an infinite substitute for guilty men, that through death, he might abolish death for men.
Having died as a sacrificial substitute, death considered as a penalty, and the guilt and demerit of sin which induced the penalty, have been set aside for all for whom his substitution avails.
Nor does Christianity leave us long in doubt as to those for whom the substitution obtains. In full and precise statement of doctrine it tells us that this substitution is on the behalf of, and for, all who individually claim our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross as a personal sacrifice for sin, and who by faith offer him to God as the sacrifice and sin offering which God himself has provided.
Thus it follows, that for every believer -- death as a penalty has been abolished, brought to nought.
This is the first great and joyous proclamation of Christianity, Death has been abolished as a penalty for every believer.
It has been abolished de jure, not yet de facto.
The Christian still dies, but his death is no longer penal, it is providential and provisional.
In the hour of death the Christian is not seized as a culprit and hurried away to execution. On the contrary, when the hour of death sounds for him, a voice inspired from heaven assures him that he has reached the threshold of the |far better|; he arises and |departs,| that he may be |absent from his home in this body and present at his home with the Lord.| His death is not a defeat, but a begun victory, and, inasmuch as both soul and spirit are delivered from the underworld and the shades of death, he has the assurance that the penalty will yet be completely abolished concerning his body: it is both the assurance and the prophecy of it.
Christianity is, then, primarily, the good news, and the doctrinal demonstration, that death as a judicial sentence has been abolished for the Christian.
But Christianity is something more than the abolition of death -- it is --
Second -- The bringing in and revelation of life.
Through the Gospel, we are told, life has been brought to light.
In the nature of the case this cannot mean natural life.
There was no necessity that it should be brought into light.
It has never been in darkness.
It is manifest everywhere. Light and life are synonymous.
There is not a condition in which in some form or other it does not exist. While one class of life may not live in a certain environment, there are other forms to which this environment would be as a hotbed for their production. Life is, indeed, universal, and may be said to be omnipresent. You will find it in the deepest depths of earth, and in the highest reaches of air. It expands on the mountain top, it dwells in the sea; it is organized in the infusoria, it exists in the infinitesimal, and reveals itself at last, in the beauty of woman and the strength of man.
As natural life has always thus been in evidence; as it has never been in the dark at all, then the life which our Lord Jesus Christ has brought to light is not natural life -- it is new life -- a life unknown to the world before.
It does not come from the natural man. It is not produced by natural generation. It comes from our Lord Jesus Christ and by supernatural generation. It did not come from him while he walked the earth. At no time during his earthly career did a human being receive it. The disciples who followed him -- he who leaned upon his breast at supper and was the disciple whom Jesus loved -- knew nothing of it. This new and unique life was brought into the light only when that light shone from his empty grave. He gave it forth and communicated it to men only when, as the risen man, he ascended up on high. It comes from him as the second man, as the last Adam, that Adam to whom the first was only as the clay model to the completed statue, as concept is to consummation. It comes from him who is both God and man, in one body and one person forever; and who, as such, is the head and beginning of the new creation of God.
By him it is communicated to those who own him as their atoning sacrifice.
The instrument is the word of the Gospel.
The agent is the Holy Spirit.
The Word is preached -- it falls into the heart of the believer as seed into the ground.
The Spirit quickens it -- the new life is germinated.
That new life is the life and nature of the risen one, our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, the man in the glory; it is the mind of him who is called Christ, and it is, therefore, in final term -- |the mind of Christ.|
It is wrought, not in the soul, but in the spirit of the believer.
By no slow process does it enter -- this life of the risen Lord -- but by absolute fiat -- the fiat of him who said -- |Lazarus, come forth.|
It is fiat life.
Its entrance into a human being is as light flashes into darkness.
It is as instantaneous as when God of old said, |Let there be light,| and light burst over a world cataclysmically fallen into chaos.
It is as transforming as when morning awakens the sleeping earth and hill and dale, river and sea, shine forth in their beauty.
It is as startling as when Lazarus himself, obeying the voice of his Lord, rose from the dead and came forth.
Behold the illustration of it.
Here is a man who grovelled in the lowest animalism.
He was a husband and father. What a husband! and what a father!
She who was his wife fled oftentimes at the very sound of his footsteps, shivering with the same fear, as though he who had solemnly sworn to love and protect her, were a mad brute intent on gratifying his own fierce lust, and ready with unchecked sensualism to trample her in the mire of his bestiality. A father, whose very name made the cheeks of the children grow white and their pulses almost to cease with terror. A drunkard, who drowned in his cup, not only wife and children and home and all outward decency, but every characteristic of truth and honesty and manhood of his own soul. A man, who through self-indulgence and the incessant yielding to unspeakable desires, had become little better than a human sewer, through whom the slime and indescribable filth of fallen and degraded humanity found its unhindered course. A human being, who had become a lazar spot, a walking pest, whose inmost thought rotted and putrified his own mind; and whose words without license were a poison and contagion to every one whose ears caught their unwelcome sound.
Mark the change in that man!
The wife now watches at the door with a gladsome smile to greet his return. The children, who once in their rags trembled with fear, now clean and wholesomely clad, and gay with laughter, gather at his knee, the moment he enters his home. He is himself well dressed. He holds his head erect, his eyes, no longer bloodshot, meet your gaze with frank and open glance. His tones are soft and modulated, his speech gentle. The Bible, the one book he always hated, is his constant study. His mouth once filled with cursings that might well have chilled the blood to hear, now give utterance to the voice of prayer and earnest thanksgiving. The church he never entered and always avoided has become the centre around which the best activities of his life are continuously moving. He who was once shunned, despised and feared, is now honored and respected of all.
The man has been transformed.
Those who saw him in former days and see him now might in all reason ask, |Is this he, or some other man?|
It is both he and yet another man. The same person, but possessing another character.
What is the secret of it all?
Let the answer be graven on every heart. He has received a new life, a new, a pure, a holy and spiritual life. He has received that life from above, from the second Adam, the Lord in heaven. He is now a twice-begotten man.
And herein is the glorious, distinctive feature of Christianity in so far as it touches a human soul.
To that soul it brings the good news that a new generation is possible; the good news that any human being may start over. The good news that, no matter how much you may be handicapped by your original genesis; no matter what the terrific law of heredity may have transmitted to you, you may be generated again. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, you may have a genealogy that shall carry your name above the proudest of earth; a genealogy by the side of which the bluest blood of most ancient kings shall be as the palest and poorest of plebeian stuff. This Gospel of Christianity brings the good news that you may receive from the throne of God life from God, as directly as did Adam when God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul. In an instant you may be recreated morally and spiritually, and have in you all the assets which, when fully capitalized by the grace of God, shall insure your sonship with God here, making you master over every disturbing and disquieting passion, and guaranteeing to you an eternal entrance into the endless inheritance of God, wherein you shall be, indeed, the heir of God and joint heir with our Lord Jesus Christ. In short, you may have the bequeathed ability to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
This is the life which our Lord Jesus Christ has brought to light.
The Gospel is the good news of this life of which the life giver himself has said, |I came that ye might have life, and that ye might have it more abundantly.| That is to say: |I came that ye might have this spiritual life and have it without limit here.|
And this Gospel of the new life brought to light by and through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is one of the elemental facts and forces which definitely answers the question -- |What is Christianity?|
But Christianity is something more than the abolition of death as a penalty and the bringing in of a new and spiritual life. Christianity is through its Gospel -- the good news that --
Third -- Immortality has been brought to light.
The word here translated |immortality| is |incorruption|; but it signifies in final terms the fact of immortality; for, as mortality is identified with corruption and is its consequent, so immortality, which is the opposite of mortality, is the consequence of incorruption and is inseparable from it.
This word |immortality| is greatly misunderstood, and almost always misapplied.
It is continually applied to the soul. It is a common thing to hear or read the expression, |immortal soul.|
The truth is, that phrase cannot be found in Holy Scripture. The terms are misleading -- their conjunction is false. Applied to the soul, the word |immortal| is a misnomer. Throughout Scripture the original word and idea relate to the body -- never otherwise. The word |mortal| is never used of the soul; you never read in Scripture the expression, |mortal soul.| You will find the words |mortal body.| A mortal body has for its opposite an |immortal body.| A mortal body is subject to corruption and death. An immortal body is incorruptible and not subject to death -- an immortal body can never die.
The mortal body is the scandal of the race and the open label of sin. A mortal body puts us in the category of condemned criminals awaiting execution. The scandal is not only moral, but organic. To be filled with disease, with pestilence, with fever, and then die and the body turned back to its component parts -- this is a scandal in construction; as much a scandal as when a house not properly built falls down; a dead body, whether of man or dog, is the most shameful blot on the face of the earth, and with the gaping mouth of the graveyard, justifies the estimate and the declaration of the living God, that death is an |enemy,| not a welcome thing like birth and life -- but an enemy. Such a scandal is it, indeed, that when our Lord Jesus Christ came to the grave of Lazarus, he was himself moved with indignation; for the words, |groaning within himself,| miss the true force. The Greek verb used signifies that he was inwardly filled with indignation and a sense of outrage at the sight of the grave and the announcement that the body of Lazarus was already corrupt. Whatever groaning came from his lips and whatever tears fell from his eyes as he wept -- these were his protests against death and the grave; for he recognized this dead body not only as due to the penalty of sin, but as the work of him |who had the power of death, that is, the devil.| (Hebrews 2:14.)
Even though the Christian as to soul and spirit be delivered from death; even though he does not go down to Hades, but at death is safely housed and at home with God in heaven -- yet the fact that this body, which was not only the dwelling place of his soul, but the temple and shrine of the Holy Spirit, should become a banquet for worms, a thing of repulsive decay, a residuum of forgotten dust, is a scandal, even to the Christian, and gives emphasis to the shame of death.
The Son of God came into the world to remove this scandal.
He died and rose again, not only that he might have power and authority to give a new and spiritual life to men, a character befitting them for the high things of God, he died and rose again that he might have power and authority to give an immortal body to all who would receive from him this new and spiritual life.
He brought this immortality to light when he rose from the dead.
He brought it to light by rising from the dead in the body in which he had died.
If our Lord Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead in the body in which he died, then immortality in the New Testament sense of the word has never been brought to light.
But he did so rise.
He made that clear on the first Sunday night after his resurrection.
The disciples were gathered together in the room.
The supper table was spread.
No one cared to eat.
The story had been going all day that Jesus had risen.
The women said so. They persisted that they had seen and talked with him.
Two men claimed, also, to have seen him, walked, talked and broken bread with him, that very afternoon.
The disciples did not believe it.
They were afraid to believe it lest it should prove to be untrue.
Then, suddenly, he stood in the midst.
They thought it was his ghost.
This was a proof to them that he had not risen; for a ghost is a disembodied thing.
He was a ghost -- he was disembodied -- therefore he had not risen.
So they felt -- each one of them.
They did not say it -- but they thought it.
He knew their thoughts.
He asks them why these thoughts arise in their hearts. He upbraids them for their unbelief.
He tells them plainly, a ghost does not have flesh and bones.
He says, |I have flesh and bones.|
They are still silent.
Then he stretches out his hands towards them. He shows them his feet.
There are great marks in them -- there is around these marks as the stain of blood, or of wounds whence blood had flowed.
Still they do not speak. They are afraid to believe; it is too good to be true.
He says to them, |Handle me and see -- take hold of my feet -- feel me -- examine me for yourselves.|
They are as immovable and speechless as men changed into stone.
He turns upon them quickly and says, |Have you anything to eat?|
They point to the untasted supper.
Then comes the climax.
He goes to the table.
He sits down.
He eats before them.
It is of record that he did eat broiled fish and an honeycomb.
Either this is the worst fable ever palmed off on the church of Christ -- on the credulity of aching human hearts -- or it is the truth of God.
Call it the truth of God -- then the body in which our Lord Jesus Christ rose was the body in which he died.
That body, stamped and sealed with the stigmata of the cross, is the living, quivering definition, and indisputable demonstration of immortality. Immortality is the living again in a body which was dead and dieth no more; or, it is the change of the body in which we now live into an incorruptible, glorious body which shall never die.
In that body which he raised from the dead, and which never saw corruption, our Lord Jesus Christ now sitteth at the right hand of God.
He is there as the vision and standard of immortality.
He is there as the forerunner, the prototype, the sample and prophecy of immortality for the Christian.
Until the Christian is made immortal his redemption is not complete.
The Christian who dies is transported to heaven.
His estate there as compared to this is |far better.|
But |far better| is not the |best.| It is only a comparative.
The superlative requires that the Christian shall have a body. Without a body the Christian is neither a complete human being nor a perfect son of God.
The divine ordination is |spirit, soul, and body.|
Unless the Christian receives an immortal body the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ over death and over him who has the power of death (that is the Devil) is not complete.
Satan as the strong man armed holds the goods and keeps them secure within his house.
The instrument with which he is armed is the law. That law which requires that it shall be |appointed unto men once to die.| The goods are the bodies of the saints, and the house is the dark and dismal grave.
O the pitifulness of it! that our Lord Jesus Christ should possess the Christian as a ghost in heaven, and the Devil hold his blood -bought and spirit-sealed body in the grave.
A risen Christ in an immortal body, surrounded by disembodied Christian ghosts in heaven forever -- that is a concept too hideously grotesque to consider.
An immortal Christ who redeemed his own body from the power of the grave, but is unable to deliver the bodies of those for whom he died -- to think it is blasphemy! to believe it -- impossible!
If the Devil be the strong man armed, the risen Lord is the one |stronger than he,| who has met and equalled all the demands of the law, and by his death nullified its ultimate power over the bodies of those for whom he died.
In the very nature of the case, then, full redemption requires that the body of every Christian shall be delivered from the grave, and that every Christian, whether living or dead, shall be clothed finally with an immortal body.
This is the great objective of salvation -- not just to save men from vice and immorality here; not just to fit them with an antidote against the poison of sin; or give them an impetus to holiness and truth for a few brief years in this mortal body, then let them die under various circumstances of suffering and pain and be carried away to heaven to live there as attenuated, invisible ghosts forever!
O no! it is not that!
It is true men are to be saved here and now in such moral and spiritual fashion as that each saved person should make the world sweeter and better and nearer to God for living in it. All that is true, but it is only a part of the glorious truth. The supreme objective -- the ultima thule of redemption -- is --
Immortality -- the Christian eternally and incorruptibly embodied.
And this immortality, this eternal embodiment, is to be accomplished for every Christian. The fact that death has been abolished officially as a penalty for the Christian is a demonstration that abolition of death means abolition for the whole Christian; as a whole or complete Christian must have a body, then the abolition of death for the Christian means abolition of death from the body. The abolition of death from the body is immortality; by virtue, then, of the abolition of death, immortality is assured to every Christian.
Not one will be forgotten even though centuries may have broken into dust above his grave.
This immortality will be brought to pass by him who is the Resurrection and the Life.
It will be brought to pass at the Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He is coming to this world again. By every law of necessity he must come. He is coming to complete redemption, to bring on the capstone amid shoutings of |grace, grace unto it.|
He will raise the dead who have fallen asleep in his name. He will change the living ones who are his at his coming. He will make the body of each incorruptible, deathless, immortal, like unto his own glorious body, as it is written:
|We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.| (1 John 3:2.)
And again it is written:
|We are citizens of a country which is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.| (Philippians 3:20, 21.)
At the last he will regenerate the earth. He will make it over. He will make all things new. He will set this race of redeemed immortals within it. Perfectly recovered from the spoliation of sin and death, they shall inhabit it forever. God shall get his own world again.
Paradise lost shall become paradise regained, and God's purpose to make man his constitutional, governmental, moral and spiritual image shall be fulfilled. Man shall be God incarnate, and incarnation shall be seen to be the beginning and the ending of the purpose of God.
This is the consummation to which Christianity leads us -- a perfect race of immortal beings in a perfect world, a perfect world in which no man shall say, |I am sick|; where sin is unknown; where the funeral bell does not toll, and a grave is never dug. Where God is all in all.
This is the hope and the ultimate Christianity sets before us. Not once in all its record does it offer us heaven or bid us prepare for it as the ultimate, but always it exhorts us to look for and wait patiently for immortality and glory at the Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the Christianity of the primitive centuries.
This is the Christianity of the New Testament.
It is the Christianity that fully met the needs of men.
It met the needs of men who gave themselves up to unrestrained passion, to the gluttony of every appetite; who lounged away their day in cool marble halls, or leaned half drunken from the cushioned seats of the amphitheatre, while the sands of the arena were reddened with human blood to give them a holiday. Look at them there. They passed their unsatisfying hours in idle jest, wreathed themselves with freshly plucked, but swiftly fading flowers, drowned their senses from moment to moment, still deeper in the spiced and maddening wines, gave unbridled freedom to their lust; and then, at close of day, in the splendor of the sinking sun, went forth to cool their fevered brows in the Campagna's freshening but deadly air, and drove with furious pace and brutal laughter along the Appian way between rows of monumental tombs whose chiselled epitaphs told the hopeless end of human life; then back again they drove with still more reckless haste to spend the night in wild debauch and meet the gray dawning of another day with its mocking routine and disgust. Loathing their very joys, revolting at their own gratification, these men asked: |Is there nothing better than this, that we drain the cup of pleasure to the dregs, open our veins, watch the life blood ebb away, and laugh, and mingle our laughter with curses that so cheap and easy an ending should have cost so much to reach?|
O the woe, the horror, the emptiness, and the crying, agonizing need of lives like these.
And Christianity fully and richly met the need of lives like these.
It met the needs of men who in the midst of an environment of the flesh, with the wild beast of appetite struggling within, now and then had longings for a power that should enable them to put their feet upon the neck of passion.
It met the needs of men who, standing above their dead, asked again the old and oft-repeated question of Job, |If a man die, shall he live again?|
Christianity met all these needs.
Through crowded streets of populous towns and lonely lanes of silent villages, in lordly palace and before straw-thatched hovels, to listening throngs and wayside hearers, it rang forth its wondrous proclamation.
It told men that a man had been here who had proven himself stronger than death and mightier than the grave; a man who had burst the bars of death asunder, spurned the sepulchre wherein human hands had laid his body, had ascended up on high, and now, from heaven's throne, had power to impart to men a life that hated sin, rejoiced in virtue, could make each moment of earth's existence worth while, and carried within it the assurance and prophecy of eternal felicity.
Far and wide, over land and sea, it rang the tidings that this perfect life might be had by king or cotter, by freeman or slave, without money and without price, for so simple a thing as genuine faith in, and open confession of, him who had died and risen again.
With rich, exultant note it announced that he who as very God had clothed himself with a new and distinct humanity, who had loved men unto death and died for them, had not forgotten the earth wherein he had suffered, his own grave from whence he had so triumphantly risen, nor yet the graves of those who had confessed his name; but, on the contrary, was coming back in personal glory and with limitless power to raise the dead, transfigure the living, make them immortal, and so change this earth that it should no longer be a swinging cemetery of the hopeless dead, but the abiding home of the eternally living sons of God.
Men held like Laocoon in the winding coils of sinuous and persistent sin, and who vainly sought to escape from its slowly crushing embrace, heard the good news and turned their faces towards the rising hope of present deliverance.
Men standing in the shadow of the tombs and waiting their turn smiled until their smiles turned into joyous laughter as they said: |If we die, we shall live again -- the grave shall not always win its victory over us.|
Do you wonder the world stopped, listened, and that multitudes turned and followed after?
Do you wonder that this Christianity of the primitive centuries triumphed so phenomenally?
This is the Christianity we need to preach today.
It is full of a great body of doctrine.
It is full of the supernatural.
Miracle and miraculous are woven into its texture from beginning to end. You cannot touch it, or handle it, or look at it from any angle of vision that it does not suggest the miraculous. The moment the miracle is out of it it is no longer the Christianity of the first century, it is not the Christianity of the New Testament -- the Christianity that has a miraculous Christ for its centre and the miracle of an infinite God for its environment.
A Christianity of doctrine!
A Christianity of miracle!
And why not?
It is as superior to the Christianity, so called, that sets aside miracle and doctrine, turns its back on the hereafter, makes its appeal in behalf of the present alone, and grounds its claim to authority, not on a |thus saith the Lord,| but on a |thus saith science and reason|; a Christianity that owns the law of evolution as its present force and defining motive; it is as superior to that sort of Christianity and as high above it as the heavens are above the earth.
One night this summer I stood upon a mountain ridge and watched the revelation of the starry sky. The great constellations, like silver squadrons, were sailing slowly and majestically to their appointed havens; from north to south and from south to north again, the Milky Way swept upward from its double horizon to the zenith like a highway paved and set with diamonds -- a highway over which the wheels of the king's chariot had sped, leaving behind that cloud of dust in which every gleaming particle was a burnished sun. I gazed spellbound until it was as the vision of an unfathomed sea, an ocean tide of light, where the shimmering foam was the rise and fall of single and multiple systems, the surf beat breaking on the shores of converging universes. I gazed on this wealth and congeries of far -flung worlds, in which some that appeared the most insignificant and twinkled and trembled as though each glimmer would be the last, were actually so great that beside them our own poor little world was but as a mole hill to earth's Himalayas; as I gazed I thought of the distance from world to world -- measured as light travels -- till the count of years fell away, and there were no more numbers with which to count, and I knew that at the end of this calculation I had but entered the suburbs of that realm for which we have but one word, whose inadequacy we all confess -- the Infinite. I listened, the silence seemed to utter forth majesty and might and honor and omnipotence, the air had in it the breath of sacred and adoring things, and unwittingly I cried out, alone in the night there, |The heavens, O God, declare thy glory and the firmament showeth thy handiwork.|
And when I look at this Christianity set forth in the New Testament, and anticipated in the Old, the constellations of doctrine, this Via Lactea of truth in which every statement is a sun of splendor; when I begin to get the sweep of the divine purpose coming up from the opening pages of Genesis and culminating in the book of the Revelation; when I see that Christianity is the presentation to us of the ways and means whereby the original thought of incarnation (and this was the very first thought stamped upon the first pages of the Genesis record of the creation of man; for incarnation is conceived in Eden before it is brought to the birth in Bethlehem) -- when I see this original thought of incarnation, in spite of sin and failure, and the world's captivity to the Devil and his angels; when I see this high purpose of God at last realized, and realized so completely that each redeemed soul is in final terms the glorious enthronement of God in humanity, and that God in Christ and in the Christian, gets his own world again, I cry out with full tribute of heart and intellect: |O Lord, this is the Christianity which thou hast wrought, thy name is written in every doctrine, every line justifies, as it proclaims thee, the infinite and gracious author.|
This is the Christianity to preach.
Let the preacher preach a Christianity of doctrine.
There are three important things every preacher should preach. The first thing is doctrine. The second thing is doctrine. The third and pre-eminent thing is doctrine. The church is starving to death for the want of it, the preachers are becoming emasculated apologists for lack of it, and the world, looking on, is laughing at a limp, genuflecting thing calling itself modern Christianity and for want of vertebrate strength, unable to stand alone.
It was doctrine believed in and preached which sustained the martyrs and gave courage to missionaries. He who believed in the sovereignty of a redeeming God, the certainty that God would get his elect, the Coming of Christ, the millennial triumph, and a rebel world surrendered at the feet of God, could endure the agony of the stake, the privation of the wilderness, and all the discomforts and all the discouragements of fields of endeavor well sowed but scantily reaped.
Let the preacher preach the supernatural -- the things that are miraculous, and be unafraid.
He need not be afraid. The world wants that sort of preaching. It is growing tired at heart of mere machinery and this eternally running up against a formula of the laboratory or a mathematical calculation and analyzed force, as explanatory of everything in heaven and in earth. It would like, if it were possible, to believe in something a little beyond the length of its eyelashes and the touch of its finger tips; something that cannot be summed up always in avoirdupois; something, indeed, beyond the ability of man.
Let the church get back to the old-fashioned doctrinal, supernatural, miraculous Christianity that underwrites itself with the name of God. Let it be boldly proclaimed that Christianity is miraculous, because it is, first and last, the Christianity of that God who is himself -- the eternal miracle.
The very salvation of the church as a church depends upon this retrograde.
If the church hesitates, compromises, seeks to accommodate its formulas to modern nomenclature. If it is willing to carry its baggage at half weight; if it is willing to make its proclamation a continual denial of all that it has heretofore professed as fundamental; if it believes the twentieth century has the call on the first, and that modernism outranks primitivism; if, in short, it looks upon primitive and apostolic Christianity as the feeble hint which the modern thinker has known how to modify and improve, then, as already suggested, the days of its spiritual and moral bankruptcy are in sight, and the sooner good business arrangements are made to hire out its meeting houses for ethical and social culture the better.
Let the church persevere in turning its back upon the hereafter; let it continue the folly of ignoring the eschatological emphasis of Christianity; let it keep on giving to men the anodynes of mere moral maxims; let it direct all its energies to improving and perfecting a society which God has already judged and condemned at its best, and presently these drugged and befooled people will awake, the drugs will no longer be effective, and they will turn in indignation upon a Christianity which began by professing to be a revelation from God and ends by confessing to be nothing more than an evolution from man.
It is time for preachers to arouse if they would have the hearing, and not the indifferent ears.
Let them refuse to apologize or defend.
Let them have the courage of divine conviction.
Let them refuse to admit into their fellowship men who are willing that a bar-sinister shall be stained across the birth hour of the Christ; who are ready to smile away such a title as |the Blessed Virgin|; who can read no deeper meaning in the cross than a brutal murder, and who do not yet know that in the garden of Arimathea there is still an empty tomb. Let them refuse ministerial ordination and partnership with men who, bearing the university brand, claim the authority of a self-elected scholarship to make the Word of God secondary to the word of man. Let them go forth and proclaim to the world with the voice of assurance which permits of no debate and will accept no recall, the Christianity that is summed up, is perfectly defined and holds inclusively all its splendor of doctrine in the three immense facts which its Gospel proclaims:
The abolition of death, the gift of a new and spiritual life, and the guaranty to every believer of a resplendent immortality like unto his who sits on yonder throne -- both eternal God and immortal man -- Coming Bridegroom and Triumphant King.
Let them preach this. Let them tell the guilty sinner that the blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ meets his case and can make the foulest clean; let them tell the slave-bound sinner that in a moment, in the flash of an eye glance, a risen Saviour can deliver him and set him free; let them tell the dying that death has lost its sting, and at death a convoy of heaven's host shall bear him away from his home in this mortal body to be at home in heaven with his ascended Lord; let them cry above every Christian grave, louder than the sound of any falling tear: |Jesus is coming to raise your dead and change the living and clothe each saint with immortal beauty|; let them look abroad upon a world full of the storm of sin, the tumult of high passion and long rebellion against our God, and shout aloud that victory cometh in the end; that Christ is God as well as man; that the days of his glory are at hand, when the |God of the whole earth| shall he be called; and when all beneath a perfect heaven in a perfect world shall know him as Lord and God from the least to the greatest. Let them preach this, and with unbroken confidence repeat the exultant words of Holy Writ, the words which shall warrant all their speech, that |our Saviour Jesus Christ hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel|; and it will be this Gospel echoing forth with all the music of its joyful tidings that shall answer infallibly and beyond all dispute the question of the hour -- |What is Christianity?|