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nations, Judea still lives by the echoes of her voice, still exercises authority by the mandate of that inner conscience which, amid the dearth of stars and systems, says from within the veil, “ Let there be light."
CONCLUSION: CHRISTIANITY AND THE MESSAGES
OF THE PAST.
I HAVE not given a separate chapter to the message of Christianity, because by the title of this book I limited myself to the religions older than it. All the phases of faith I have taken up have their origin in a much remoter past, with the exception perhaps of the Teuton; but even the Teuton has long since passed away, and Christianity is still green. I have therefore excluded from formal treatment the bit of ground on which I stand, and have made it rather the pivot of observation than itself a thing to be observed. Now, however, that we have completed our survey, it is not inexpedient to ask what is the Christian message as distinguished from these other messages. That is a point on which we are not left in doubt. In all other cases we have to search the records for their purpose; but here the purpose is revealed by the religion itself. Christianity declares that its mission to the world is one of reconciliation. No religion has ever before claimed to be the bearer of such a message. Neither Brahman, nor Buddhist, nor Parsee, nor Jew, nor Greek, ever aspired to such a destiny. The nearest approach to the aspiration came from the Roman, who aimed, as we have seen, at the incorporation of all things within his own state. But incorporation is not reconciliation. The problem of the Roman could be solved by geography; it placed heterogeneous things side by side, and left them heterogeneous still. But the religion of Christ is not anxious to put things locally together, nor even to make them similar in appearance. It seeks to reconcile them in their differences, — to make them, in the very midst of their diversity, work out one common end. It is not eager for uniformity, not solicitous for the recognition of one mode of government, not desirous that all should think on the same plane; it desires that the air may run through the variations, that the diversity of gifts may enfold a unity of the spirit.
Is it possible that the religions of the past may themselves be included in this message of reconciliation ? Is it conceivable that Christianity has furnished a ground for peace not only within but without its own fold ? Paul says that in Christ “all things stand together”; and it is a most remarkable statement. It seems to suggest that the angles of opposing faiths are rubbed off when they stand in the Christian temple, and that ideas once mutually conflicting can there rest side by side. Do not misunderstand me. I do not for a moment imagine that the first Christians said to themselves, “ We shall found a religion which shall embrace the faiths of the world.” I do not suppose that any one of these disciples had ever heard of Brahmanism, or Buddhism, or Parsism. But this does not even touch the question. These religions are representative of certain ideas which belong to human nature. If a religion appears which professes to be a universal faith, it must show its universality by uniting these ideas. It must be a ladder reaching from earth unto heaven, each of whose ascending steps shall find a place for one of the systems of the past. Instead of being manifested to reveal the falsity of former views, it must, for the first time, vindicate the truth of all, -must discover a point in which beliefs hitherto deemed at variance may lie down together in unity, and receive from the heart of man a common justification. Let us see whether the religion of Christ will furnish such a meeting-place for the messages of the nations.
In the order of nature the starting point is the land of Egypt. The message of Egypt, it will be remembered, was the mystery of the boundary-line—the reverence for the spot where one life passes into another. Is there anything in the Christian doctrine which corresponds to this thought? There is. What do we mean by the word “aspiration” ? Neither more nor less than the Egyptian meant. Aspiration is simply the effort of one life to pass over into another, to be something other than itself. Christian aspiration is just the soul looking over the boundaryline,—contemplating a life beyond the limits of its own personality, and longing to be like it. Man sees in the glass a figure besides himself, and feels himself passing toward that figure. It has more attraction for him than the form which he actually wears, more control over his movements, more influence over his mind. “I live, yet not I,” are the words in which Paul expresses the sense of Christian aspiration. It is the riddle of the Sphinx in the sphere of the gospel. Two lives shoot out from one stem—the one popularly called the real, the other the ideal. One is animal, the other human; one natural, the other spiritual ; one at the beginning, the other at the end. While the man yet dwells in the one, he can look out at the window and gaze at the other. He has the power to pass beyond his boundary, to open the casement that encloses him, and rejoice in the anticipation of a life that is not yet come. There is a place for ancient Egypt in the Pantheon of modern Christianity.
But let us go a step further. This desire after another life could not have existed unless by nature that life had been already ours. No man can aspire to anything that has not at some time been his. His longing may be only the result of ancestral descent; but ancestral descent is itself a form of possession.