Billeder på siden

incarnate in the authority of Rome. The bureaucratic, absolute administration of the Roman empire, like that of Russia to-day, found its only safety in crushing out all organizations not directly under governmental supervision. The strictest laws forbade associations of people except for certain clearly defined purposes. Christ left no manual of church government; but the association of the faithful in groups and bodies was an immediate result of his teachings regarding brotherhood and his institution of the sacrament of the holy communion. So soon as the church began to organize, it came into collision with the laws of Rome. It was persecuted on politiical grounds, as a matter of public policy A legal basis for persecution was never lacking. Heedless or bad emperors, to whom the condition of the empire was a matter of small concern, might pass the Christians by; but good emperors, as Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, who wished to govern for the best interests of the state, could not, consistently with imperial traditions and policy, do otherwise than endeavor to obliterate that new religion which admitted no amalgamation or compromise with the creeds recognized by the state authorities, and whose fundamental tendencies caused it to be at variance with established laws. Yet whether in peace or in persecution, the church increased everywhere in numbers and influence. At the beginning of the fourth century, while Judaism had indeed lost ground, paganism had so far declined that Christianity soon replaced it as the state religion.

It is clear that in the progress of Christianity in the early time we discover the manifestation or operation of a force The analogy of that force is to be found, not in physical or chemical, but in biological, science. For the force which manifests itself through Christianity has the characteristics of vitality

It began at once to clothe itself with an organism-the church. This organism underwent a process of differentiation in adjusting itself to its environment, The interaction between the organism and its environment affected both In all that is outward, in government and in ritual, the branches of the Christian church to-day represent the result of centuries of action and reaction between the inner force and the world without. Who will say that in all that is exterior the Christianity of to-day is not an illustration of the principle of evolution?

Systems of theology, no less than the institutions of the church, attest the same development. Theologies are the philosophic treatises, creeds are the text-books, or primers, which deal with the force and its manifestations. Just as scientific treatises vary from generation to generation, according to point of view or correctness of method or range of facts; just as in this field each generation tests the work of the preceding and makes its own contribution, so, in the history of the literature of Christianity from the days of Justin and Minucius Felix, the statement of all except fundamental principles has undergone constant revision, the imperfect explanation or interpretation of one epoch being corrected by the following The needs of the race vary with every age. Even old truths must be restated, in the forms most appropriate to the environment. Who will declare that the last word has yet been said in physics or chemistry or biology? Who will say that these sciences do not involve mystery as impenetrable to human ken as the mysteries of our faith, or that a final statement in this stage of being will be possible? Then in view of the mystery and the vast range of data comprised in that manifestation which we call Christianity, we may well doubt whether a final and allcomprehensive statement will ever be made by man.

This development, or evolution, of Christianity, suggested by the contrast between primitive and modern forms, is no meaningless accident. It is a fact fraught with the highest significance for the church and for the world. No fact more clearly shows forth the divine origin of Christianity, or points

out its mission as the world-religion The history of the church as a whole is an illustration of the law of the survival of the fittest. Christianity has shown a constant tendency to take the place of inferior beliefs. In its own inner life there has been a marked tendency to pass from lower to higher forms. When it has become encrusted with elements alien to its own nature, it has burst its bonds and freed itself from the trammels of formalism and corruption. That vitality manifest in the beginning still pervades the church. Will anyone say that God is not imminent in it, working through it the accomplishment of his far-reaching plans?

Amid all the shifting and changing of the Christian centuries, in all the interaction between Christianity and its environment, one element has remained constant, unchanging, essential. Christianity was not primarily a system of government, a ritual, or a theology; it was a life. It was the individual life for which Jesus died. It was the sin, the sorrow, the hopelessness of an existence without a future beyond the grave that He came to succor It was the joyousness of a life redeemed that spread the message of good tidings throughout the Roman Empire; the half-hearted priests of paganism, the hostile Jews, even the authorities of Rome herself were powerless to stay its course. It was the humility of a devout life, the

courage of a faithful life, the self-sacrifice of a consecrated life, the purity of a sanctified life, that amazed and angered the corrupt pagan world.

No pen or pencil can portray the trials of the Christian in those days. Men were tested as by fire. Occupations and professions, business forms and social usages, were all interwoven with pagan traditions and interpenetrated with religious observances abhorrent to the follower of Jesus. Acceptance of Christianity drove a sharp line of cleavage between the converted heathen and all he held dear The battle for him was

not for a day or a month, but for years, for life. When persecution came, unless he paid worship to the Emperor's image or that of some other divinity, he was treated as a criminal, subject to the most awful tortures or to death. Yet so terrible the strain of the Christian life that many an one sought the martyr's crown, that he might be the sooner with his Lord. Harder to bear even than physical suffering was the atmosphere of scandal and ridicule about the early church. Men reported, and believed, that the Christians worshipped the head of an ass; that a part of the ceremony of initiation consisted in plunging a poignard into the flesh of a young child, and sucking its blood; and that a part of the celebration of the Lord's supper was only a cover for the most fearful orgies and unrestrained debauchery Persecution and slander only winnowed the church. Then, as now, there were excrescences of Christian character Then, as now, some emphasized one virtue or one trait more than others, and made it prominent. But whatever may be said'in regard to development in other elements of Christianity, the type and the ideal of the life of the follower of Jesus have undergone no changes. The same simplicity, consecration, fervor, self-forgetfulness and unswerving faith which the world regards as truly Christian to-day, have been so regarded from the beginning

If this be true, do we not see in the Christian character

that which is fundamental and essential, the germ and center of Christianity? Church government and forms of worship and systems of theology are a part of the necessary adjustment of Christianity to the world; but only in the salvation of the individual soul do we find its true purpose, and witness the manifestation of its highest power Other religions have been. adjusted only to a limited environment. They have met, though only in part, the aspirations of a single race or a single nation or of a series of tribes or peoples, similarly conditioned. Other religions have shown themselves incapable of passing the ethnic or geographical bounds within which they originated, and have failed either to attract or to convert the world. tianity alone is truly catholic, circumscribed in its capability of adjustment to human conditions by no limitations of race or time or physical boundaries. The message that the early Christians transmitted slowly along the great Roman roads is the same as that which to-day speeds over the world with the aid of steam and electricity. The zeal of those days in the spread of the gospel finds a fitting complement in the missionary activity of the present age.


It com

It offers

Why Christianity has appealed to the individual life, and through it has influenced the world, is not far to seek. pletely meets the needs of man's religious nature. redemption from sin, which he has found nowhere else. It sets before him moral perfection as an ideal, and presents a perfect life as model. It stimulates the intellectual life: 'Prove all things,' it says, 'hold fast to that which is good.' It enjoins the care of the body as 'the temple of the Holy Ghost.' Even the appreciation of the beautiful in our earthly life received the sanction of Christ; who can read what He said of the lilies of the field and not feel that for all time He has bidden men

« ForrigeFortsæt »