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I am a firm believer in development, and thoroughly alive to its value. But before a thing can pass it must be. It must originally have had a worth for itself alone and not for another. No object, no ideal, could have exercised for centuries a sway over thousands, which had no other cause than the contemplation of that final link by which it was to pass away. To the men of these centuries the power lay in the faith itself—in something which was not only potent but present. This I have called its distinctive message. By the distinctive message of a religion I mean, not an enumeration of its various points, but a selection of the one point in which it differs from all others. My design is therefore more limited than that of some volumes of equal size. I do not seek the permanent elements in religion with the Bishop of Ripon, nor the unconscious Christianity of Paganism with F. D. Maurice, nor the moral ideal of the nations with Miss Julia Wedgwood. I seek only to emphasise the dividing lines which constitute the boundary between each religion and all beside. In the concluding chapter I have tried to reunite these lines by finding a place for each in some part of the Christian message. I have given a sufficient number of references for a book which is not meant for a contribution to
linguistic research, but simply as a mental study. This is not a matter in which the linguist has any advantage over the unprofessional, provided only that the details, so far as they are known, have become common property and are sufficient to warrant a conclusion. It is a doubt on this last point which has induced me to omit from the present generalisation the otherwise interesting religions of Assyria and Chaldea.