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Christian, then, properly is one who believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah of Hebrew prophecy. Thus
Christianity” and “Christian dogma” are equivalent expressions.
It follows that, as Jesus of Nazareth never taught he was the Messiah (Christ), his teaching was something apart from Christianity; it is, in truth, the purest theism of the Hebrew Scriptures, conjoined with their sublimest morality.
Having now indicated the main lines of an inquiry respecting Jesus and Christianity, it might be well to point the moral, and show the practical tendency of an investigation which has led, in regard to the whole of Christian dogma, to an unequivocably negative conclusion.
There are who say, more or less distinctly, that Christianity, whether true or not, must be assumed to be true, and taught as true, otherwise the masses of the people will be reduced to a state of moral chaos'; others there are, and these more numerous, who speak as if to disprove the truth of dogmatic Christianity were to take the sun from the sky, the sunshine of hope from the heart.
In order, then, to dispel these illusions, it might be wise to devote a chapter to the working of dogmatic Christianity, both in the past history of Christendom and at the present time.
Christianity, as a dogmatic system, being founded on the sole doctrine that Jesus is the Christ, then, since the negative of that doctrine is true, it follows that Christianity, properly so called, has no foundation in truth.
As the Messiah-King of Israel, predicted by the Hebrew prophets, never has appeared, and never can appear, it follows, again, that no miracles were wrought in evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was this Messiah. Historical inquiry thus excludes the idea of supernatural revelation.
But modern apologists supply us with a “short and easy method” of believing therein.
We have but to presuppose that Jesus was preternaturally sinless, and, after the study of his life, to cling to this belief (ignoring the want of evidence, and the counterevidence presented by the baptism, and by Jesus' reply to him who addressed him as “Good Master”), and no further difficulty will be presented by the miracles. A door will have been opened wide enough for them all to enter.
The generation or two which clung to Christianity in spite of the non-appearance of the Christ, —-which had mournfully to confess that “the days are prolonged, and every vision faileth,” notwithstanding God's declaration by Ezekiel that this should not be so again, yet which acquitted the Almighty of breach of promise on the ground that he must not be expected to fulfil his promises in the sense in which he caused them to be understood,—these generations had received a lesson adverse to literal veracity, and they were not slow to make practical application thereof. Thus we need not wonder at the forgeries which abounded in the second century.
The influence of (dogmatic) Christianity may be shown to have continued adverse to truthfulness, shown most clearly in the history of the Catholic Church, its martyrology notwithstanding
The evil influence of Christian dogma is also apparent in the intolerance it has ever, till of late, fostered. The germs, therefore, are in the New Testament, and should be brought to the reader's notice. Mature Christianity saidBelieve, or suffer eternally the torments of hell. As one untruth necessitated another, Christianity is responsible for the frightful dogma of eternal punishment, a dogma which, standing alone, is a great evil; but when such punishment was threatened as above, as the alternative of belief, the
dogma led, as Mr. Lecky shows, to the most unrelenting persecutions.
A phase of Christianity is Calvinism, as we see it in the Westminster Confession of Faith, a quotation or two from which might not be amiss.
The history of the world shows that the Christian doctrine of the work of the Holy Ghost is unsupported by evidence, is a work which leaves no trace, as the state of heathendom as well as of Christendom has always testified.
The Christianity of the present day, tempered as it is by modern influences, is yet obstructive of the progress
of mankind. Whether we glance at the Roman Catholic, the Greek Catholic, or any of the Protestant sects, the impediments it presents are more or less apparent. Here it is in conflict with the state to defend its usurped dominion over mankind, there it obscures the teaching of Jesus by a multitude of ceremonial observances. The evangelical doctrine of justification by faith may be shown (by the admissions of prominent evangelicals) to be obstructive of the progress of righteousness. Instead of promoting righteousness-i.l. moral goodness, virtue, nobility of character—which should be the one aim of all Churches, attention is very frequently concentrated on other subjects, and apparently directed to other objects or aims, as, for instance, presentation of doctrine ; learned explanation of an ancient religious literature, and the defence of Christianity itself, ever becoming a more difficult task.
On the other hand, Christianity has conferred great benefits on mankind—benefits, however, which may be retained, though itself be rejected.
We owe to it the New Testament, and therefore our knowledge of the life and teaching of Jesus. This volume contains also many excellent things not directly traceable to the Nazarene. We owe to Christianity also, as long ago
remarked by Emerson, two institutions, which may be made increasingly useful, those (viz.) of preaching and the Sunday rest.
It may thus be shown that, though Christianity proper be destroyed, the general teaching of the prophet of Nazareth may be preserved intact (or only modified by the advance of science), and the Churches not only preserved, but rendered far more efficacious for their true ends. It may be shown how the “ Jesus of history” differs from the Jesus of Christianity, and how the former may be the better honoured and followed by rejecting the latter; also by not placing his name on a sectarian banner, but by equally honouring and following truth, justice, love, and purity, whether found in him or in others, according to the degree of each.
Thus a work produced on the lines above traced may contribute towards clearing the path of the universal Church of the future, for the unobstructed pursuit of righteousness.
PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED, LONDON AND BECCLES.