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Defects of Modern Christianity.
“Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”—LUKE xiv. 33.
HERE are many persons in the present day who never manifest enthusiasm about anything. The nil admirari theory of life, suggested formerly by Horace, and reiterated by the lovesick hero of Tennyson’s ‘Maud, is one of the gospels of the age. “Not bad" is about the highest praise which some persons would think it respectable to bestow. They consider enthusiasm to be a sign of under-breeding, or, at any rate, of ignorance. They imagine it shows wisdom to seem bored, to appear “used up" in the fruitless endeavour to discover something with anything in it. When the eccentric leader of one of the new cliques in English society tells us that there is nothing worth seeing in Switzerland, and that he considers the Atlantic a failure, he speaks not for himself alone, but for a large class of which he is the representative, and which forms his raison d'etre. And enthusiasm in religion is even more generally deprecated. It is considered by many equivalent to superstition, the sign of an ill-balanced mind. "The worst of madmen," says Pope, "is a saint run mad." To many the accusation of mad saintliness would appear, of all possible accusations, the most terrible. There are, I fear, large classes of men and women calling themselves Christians who do not take the slightest interest in the religion of Christ. They profess Christianity merely because it is the correct thing to profess it. A few years ago, just before the mathematical tripos at Cambridge, a newspaper reporter called to interview the man who was expected to be senior, and asked him, among other things, what was his religion. "Oh," said the mathematician, "you had better put me down as an atheist." "But," urged the reporter, "that will not sound well. May I not say that you are of the same religion as your father?" "Certainly," he replied, "by all means. Call me a member of the
Church of England." There are a great many persons who are members of the Church of England on the same principle, because they think it would not sound well to be members of anything else. If Episcopalianism became unfashionable, they would discard it as ruthlessly as a worn-out garment. If religion were to be blotted out of human life, they would not miss it—or rather, they would agreeably miss it. The tiresome social duty of going to church would be at an end for them; and they would be saved a certain amount of expense—viz., the guinea or two they pay for their seat, and the threepennypieces they are obliged to put into the bag. They much begrudge this money; but as things are, they feel that they gain by the transaction. —And these people, who are only dishonest pagans, have the audacity to call themselves Christians!
The common misrepresentation of Christianity, to which I called your attention in the last sermon, has tended to prevent men from recognising the extreme importance which attaches to enthusiasm in the Christian system. If Christ's religion consisted in the mere acceptance of a creed respecting future destiny, it could never excite in us any strong or continued emotion. It would be easier to feel enthusiasm about the multiplication-table. That does lie at the basis of our daily transactions. But a future life disconnected from the present could never permanently affect men's hearts. The man for whom the only difference between Christ and Mohammed amounts to this, that if he believes in the one, he will be by-and-by, in theological language, saved; and if he believes in the other, he will be by-and-by lost,—such a man can never believe in Christ at all, except in a cold, matter-of-fact fashion which is the very opposite of Christian faith. If Christ's sole work is to take us to heaven, then we shall be satisfied, naturally and justly satisfied, with the smallest quantity of belief which will suffice for that purpose. Those who regard the plan of salvation as merely a device for escaping hell, need not feel at all insulted if the sarcastic language of Bailey's "Festus" is applied to them:—
"Ye think ye never can be bad enough,
But Christ's religion is no mere creed about the future. It is a life to be lived in the present. And no life can be well lived without enthusiasm. Do you suppose you would succeed in the army or at the bar if you were satisfied with passively believing that they were a good sort of institution—if you contented yourself with appearing at certain stated times on parade or in the law courts? No indeed! If you are to be successful, there is need of hard study, strict discipline, and persevering effort, through which nothing but enthusiasm can carry you triumphantly. And if enthusiasm be necessary to live worthily the life of a soldier or a barrister, still more essential is it for him who would live the life of a Christian. Nothing else can possibly enable us to fulfil the requirements of Christ. Let us see what these requirements originally were, and let us inquire how far they are the same for ourselves. To the young man who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life, Christ replied that he must sell all that he had and give the proceeds to the poor. Another who professed himself ready to follow Christ, but asked permission first to attend his father's funeral, was curtly told to leave the dead to bury their dead. And a third was informed