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(HERE are ten great religions in the world,
and of these the three greatest are said to
be the religion of Buddha, the religion of Mohammed and the religion of Jesus. With the exception of Christianity, every great religion in the world is a national religion; or to express it more accurately, a religion which exists within certain well defined geographical limits; Christianity is the only universal religion which has leaped all geographical limitations and national boundaries. There is only one world-religion. Christianity is the only religion with a world-program in practical operation.
In this chapter we purpose addressing ourselves to the question : “In what respect is Christianity different from every other religion ?" This question, if propounded to the average orthodox Christian, or to “the man on the street," would be answered in the phraseology of Nicodemus: “We know that Thou art a teacher come from God, for no man can do the miracles which Thou doest, except God be with him." In other words the main argument for the divine character of Christianity, in the popular mind, rests on the supernatural character of the author of Christianity, as confirmed by the miracles which He wrought and the mighty deeds which He performed.
But a miracle is not the strongest argument, or ground for an argument, which Christianity has to present. Miracles were not peculiar to the life of Jesus. Miracles were wrought by the prophets who came before Jesus and also by the apostles who lived after Jesus had ascended. Furthermore, there is no miracle in the New Testament for which you cannot find a counterpart in the Old Testament. Jesus fed the multitude, but Israel was fed with manna for forty years. Jesus cleansed the leper, but Naaman, the Syrian general, was cleansed through the instructions of the prophet. Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, but Elisha multiplied the oil. Jesus raised the dead, but Elijah raised the widow's son ; Jesus was transfigured, but so also was Moses; Jesus was translated, but Elijah was swept by a whirlwind into heaven. Miracles were not peculiar to the life of Jesus nor confined in Holy Writ to that particular department of Scriptural literature known as the New Testament.
While it is true that to Nicodemus belongs the credit for having presented the first philosophical statement concerning the supernatural origin of Christianity, yet it is a rather remarkable fact that the argument of Nicodemus did not appear to please or satisfy the Great Teacher to whom it was originally addressed. Nicodemus had framed his words in order to confer a compliment, but Jesus returned the compliment with an expression of surprise that "
ruler in Israel” had evidently failed to comprehend the vital element in His ministry. In this conversation between two great teachers, the greatest of the two affirmed that a teacher should be known by what he says and not by what he does—by the truth which he utters and not the miracle which he works. Miracles belong to the physical or material realm, but Truth belongs to the realm of the spiritual. To the limited view and narrow comprehension of a Nicodemus, a revived or resurrected physical frame was of more value and importance than an eternal truth or an everlasting reality. Nicodemus was a learned and cultured aristocrat, representing the highest ideals of orthodox Jewish society, but in the philosophy of his soul he was a materialist. A miracle had disturbed the materialistic equilibrium of his mind and therefore his amazement, consternation and apologetic attitude, expressed in the carefully chosen words of approach, as he stepped into the presence of the Nazarene. The design of Jesus was not to glorify the material, or to magnify the physical, but to reveal the spiritual. Truth is the philosophy of the spiritual realm. The truth expressed in the words : “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” is of vastly more importance than the beneficial results following the command, “Take up thy bed and walk.” But truth had less charm for Nicodemus than a miracle. He had no eye for the invisible. He had no faculty for the unseen. He was not even a child in spiritual things; therefore the Master said to him: “Ye must be born again.”
In John x. 41 we have a vital distinction, well worthy of careful consideration. The words have reference to John the Baptist and the distinction marks a contrast between the relative value of a truth well expressed and those peculiar gifts of personality by which a miracle is wrought. The words are these : "John did no miracle, but all things that John spake of this man were true.” In setting forth the sum total of a man's gifts, talents, genius and influence, there is no greater praise to be registered than that expressed in the word "True.” Miracles are but for a moment; Truth is for the ages. Miracles attract attention rather than confirm or substantiate. Men of evil principle, and men of no principle at all, have possessed miracle working power, if we are to accept the plain statements of Scripture and certain popular traditions to be found in other literatures aside from the pages of Holy Writ. Truth is truth even though unaccompanied by miracle, wonder or sign.
Christianity is different from all other religions in one respect, namely, the author of Christianity made a direct and persistent appeal to the human reason and founded His religion on the truth. One of His first and fundamental propositions was couched in these words: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free ;" and the last confession of His life was framed in words such as these : "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth."