Christianity & Science
A Series of Ten Lectures
by Andrew P. Peabody, D.D., LL.D.
Professor of Christian Morals in Harvard University · 1875
<<  PREV
Christianity as a Renovator in Society
NEXT  >>


IN my last Lecture I exhibited the results of indi-vidual experiment or experience with regard to Christianity. These might be decisive as to the pre-eminent worth of the religion, even were the instances in which it has done its full work very few. Indeed, the argument from experiment was never felt with more force than in the apostolic age, when the Christian type of character had very few specimens, yet was both attractive from its novelty, and peculiarly Christlike from the personal intimacy of those who bore it with Jesus. But the efficacy of Christianity can be thoroughly tested only by ascertaining what it has done for society, communities, nations, the human race. It is not, however, incumbent upon us to show that it has effected all that we might antecedently have expected from a divinely promulgated religion. This is a matter in which we have no data or precedents by which to graduate our expectations. Our short lives may make the cycles of the Divine Providence seem slow and long. The two questions which we need to answer with regard to Christianity are: 1. Has it done for man all that its Founder promised? and 2. Has any other religion clone as much for man, or even placed itself in this respect in favorable comparison with Christianity?

We will first inquire, Has Christianity done for man all that its Founder promised? He predicted that it would be early preached throughout the then known world; that its growth at the outset would be rapid; that it would encounter the severest persecution and the most strenuous antagonism; that its immediate effect would be to send not peace, but a sword upon the earth; that it would not lead to the establishment of a theocracy, or to the separation of his disciples from the rest of mankind, but that Christians and non-Christians would remain side by side, as wheat and tares in a field; that, however, his religion would gradually modify existing institutions and habits, without external show, by a quiet interior working, like that of the leaven in the mass of moistened meal, thus making all things new, not by sudden revolution, but by slow and often insensible stages of progress. Let us see how far these predictions have been fulfilled.

The early growth of Christianity is without precedent or parallel in human history. Within a century after its Founder's death it had been received by multitudes in every region of the then civilized world, and had made numerous disciples in those great eastern empires that lay wholly beyond the reach of Grecian and Roman culture. Within two centuries there was more of learning and philosophy in the Church than outside of it; in Alexandria, which had supplanted Athens as the world's centre of erudition, almost all the distinguished scholars were Christians; and the Platonic philosophy, especially, had scarcely any but Christians among its eminent disciples, while it had furnished not a few of the Christian martyrs. Within three centuries, Christianity had mounted the throne of the Caesars; the cross had become the proudest ensign of power and state; and the idolatry whose shattered temples and statues in Athens and Rome modern art may copy, but can never equal, had become literally Paganism, and - though at uncertain intervals stimulated into a brief revival in the Italian cities - had for the most part only obscure pagans or villagers for its votaries. Of the ten successive persecutions enumerated by ecclesiastical historians of the old school, the greater part were wars of extermination, waged with the whole force of the empire against the new faith; yet the agents of the imperial power had such success in extinguishing Christianity as a little group of emigrants might hope to have in trampling out the fire in a burning prairie.

Christianity in its progress had to contend with religions which had their roots in immemorial antiquity, were intertwined with the whole fabric of society, were intimately associated with domestic and civic life, and were made beautiful and glorious by the highest art and the most finished literature to which human genius has given birth.

Still more hopeless seemed the conflict of Christianity with the grossest moral corruption. Art and poetry, music and song, had become the satellites of vice. Philosophy - with exceptions, illustrious, indeed, but few - had relaxed her stern features, and under the broad charter of Epicureanism smiled on excess and licentiousness, and employed all her acumen in seeking paths to happiness that might not trespass on the confines of virtue. Gross sensuality was less the recreation than the business, aim, and end, of large numbers who occupied the highest places in station, wealth, and culture. The only public amusements were such as ministered to the coarsest and vilest passions, - the contests of wild beasts, the deadly combats of gladiators, the tearing of criminals limb from limb in the amphitheatre, the representation of all that was most foul and obscene in comedy. Vices that have no longer a name among men were glorified in ode and epigram, and sanctioned by the example of the so-called guardians of the public virtue.
Under all these unpropitious influences, Christianity seemed placed at the greater disadvantage by the obscurity of its Founder and his associates. He, born in a manger, reared in a despised village, bearing the reproachful name of a Galilean, often houseless and destitute, the companion of humble fishermen; the eleven who took up the standard of the infant faith when it dropped from his hands, illiterate, inexperienced, unhonored men, re-enforced in the early stages of their work by but one associate of large attainments and masterly ability, and that one bearing the stigma - degrading everywhere out of Palestine ' - of Jewish parentage,- these are the destined creators of a new era, and founders of a spiritual sovereignty to which supreme earthly power shall own allegiance. These disciples, ignorant of every language but their own native patois of Hebrew alloyed with Chaldee, and a rude Greek bristling with strange Hebrew idioms, are to proclaim the Gospel throughout and beyond the Roman empire. Unskilled in rhetorical arts, they are to persuade those familiar with the traditions and successors of Cicero and Hortensius. Unpractised in logic, they are to dispute in the schools of philosophers. They are to go, not to corners and by-places, but to the radiating centres of civilization and culture, interpreting the Unknown God among the monuments of Athenian genius, preaching the self-denying and hardy virtues in luxurious and effeminate Corinth, teaching the empress city of the world to bow to the sceptre of the King of kings.

With all these opposing influences and unfavorable circumstances, the progress, nay, the continued existence of Christianity is the miracle of the ages. If the religion was man-devised and earth-born, its surviving the crucifixion of its Founder was intrinsically less probable and credible than the rising of Lazarus from his four days' death slumber. The early history of Christianity, however, accords in this respect with the predictions of Christ; and - what is more to our present purpose - it furnishes an experimental evidence of its capacity for extended propagation, that is, of its fitness to meet the varying demands, conditions, and needs of universal humanity, - a fitness of which it is now giving proof, as in primitive times, by the revival in our own century of the missionary spirit, and by the eminent success of Christian propagandism among races debased by centuries of barbarous or savage life, and in their obdurate stupidity presenting a far less inviting soil for spiritual tilth than the fields so promptly made white for the harvest in the time of the apostles.

But what has Christianity done for the world? Wherein is modern Christian civilization in advance of the old Greek and Roman civilization which it superseded? It must be admitted that the outward transformation of society has been far less radical and thorough than a Christian optimist of the first century would have anticipated. The vision of the seer of the Apocalypse, to whose prophetic eye the ages seem to have been foreshortened, and the far-off future to have looked very near, is immeasurably more remote now than it was in his view. Yet there are many aspects in which old things have passed away, and all things have become new.

In the first place, the greatest of all transformations may be marked in the relation borne by vice and sin to public opinion. There are many respects in which portions of Christendom are hardly less corrupt than was the Gentile world in the time of Christ. But moral evil is now nowhere beheld with complacency and approval. Undoubtedly there is in circulation now as vile literature as the foulest passages in Horace, Ovid, Catullus, or Martial; but, if so, it is to be found only in the slums and sewers of society, while their poems were dedicated to emperors and courtiers, were in the hands of the most refined and cultivated persons, and were in harmony with the purest taste of their times. Naples is believed by those conversant with its lowest depths to be hardly less depraved than when it was the second Corinth, only coarser, but not less dissolute than its antetype. But the excavations in Pompeii show that what is now secret and under the ban of the Church and the law, was then paraded everywhere; so that homes, places of public concourse, and even temples, must have been nurseries of the vilest licentiousness, and Sodom can hardly have invited her doom by a more utter destitution of the semblance of virtue than did the cities - suburbs and imitators of Naples - that were buried under the ashes of Vesuvius. In our own country, venality, bribery, peculation, defalcation, and corruption, on the part of men in office, trust, power, and high position, could hardly find more than their parallel in the worst days of Rome; Verres might seem to have been the patron saint of large numbers of our commissaries, Indian agents, and revenue detectives; and no pro-consul can have been more rapacious than some of our public men who exercised proconsular jurisdiction in our southern cities during the late rebellion. But before Christ there was no sensitiveness of the public conscience on these matters. Thus it was long the recognized usage in Rome for an edile to incur enormous debts in furnishing public shows and entertainments, with the understanding that he was to reimburse himself by the spoils of the province which in due course of time would fall to his administration; and it is reckoned as among Cicero's special titles to honor and admiration - a solitary distinction - that, when he had the government of a province, he committed neither theft nor robbery. Cicero, who, so far as I can remember, does not in his ethical treatises pass in a single instance a favorable judgment on an immoral act, tells the story of the two foremost citizens of Rome, men of high reputation, openly receiving legacies by a will which every one knew to be forged, as retaining-fees for their declining to advocate the cause of the rightful heir. He cites, as a case in which even Stoic moralists were divided in opinion, the question, whether if a wise man - that is, a truly virtuous man - had igno-rantly received counterfeit money, he may knowingly use it in the payment of his debts. You cannot now find the man who approves theft or fraud of any kind, or will dare to defend or excuse it. The men who are false to their trusts may cover up or deny their offences, and may, by corrupt means, retain and extend the power they abuse; but they could not stand a single day in face of the clear proof of their guilt. The Credit Mobilier would not have been out of keeping with the best usage in Rome. Here it has driven its detected accomplices, in spite of undoubted public services and high religious pretensions, into the grave, or a living death of enduring ignominy. The case is the same throughout Christendom with every form of vice or crime. No one ventures to approve it. No one is bold enough to apologize for it. However it may abound and run riot, its actors and abettors are ashamed of it. Were they, in conclave, to construct a code of morals from their own sincere conviction and belief, it would be a Christian code. We have here, assuredly, an immense gain, in the conversion of the public conscience, in the establishing of a Nemesis in the individual consciences of evil-doers. Jesus has, at least, produced a conviction of sin, a pervading sense of right, and a rectitude of moral judgment, of which, before his time, we have but few traces.

We will next consider the agency of Christianity in domestic life. At the Christian era, the conjugal relation, whose stability is the sole safeguard for the peace and well-being of the family, was held in reverence nowhere in the civilized world. Divorce, in theory justifiable on the slightest grounds, was facilitated by law, sanctioned by custom, and held blameless in the best public opinion. In Judaea, the Mosaic law, which, in the ages when writing was a rare accomplishment, interposed serious difficulties by requiring the malecontent husband to furnish the wife with a legal document, had ceased to operate as a check. In Athens, there was not only liberty of divorce without cause, but the husband had a legal right to sell his wife into second nuptials to which she was not a consenting party; and, in case a father died, leaving no children except a married daughter, the nearest kinsman of his name could legally dissolve her marriage and make her his own wife. In Rome, men and women alike exercised the legal right of divorce, with a sole view to new marriages; and there were women of illustrious rank who, as Seneca says, reckoned the years not by consuls, but by husbands, divorced to marry, married to divorce. The malign associations connected with the term noverca (stepmother) of which the literature of the Augustan age furnishes numerous instances, grew not from that office legitimately assumed, but from the frequency with which an artful and intriguing woman contrived to supplant the mother of the family, and of course could hardly have any other relations with that mother's children than those of mutual distrust, suspicion, and hatred (see Appendix II, Note N). Under such a domestic regime, there was, of necessity, no home-culture for the children; nor was even home-love able to survive the wrenches and outrages to which it was perpetually doomed. The mother was liable to be separated for ever from her children before they could know the preciousness of her love, and it was the prime endeavor of her rival and successor to supersede them in their father's affection for the benefit of her own children. We have abundant evidence that in the richer families children were left till adult years almost entirely to the care and training of slaves, without even the pretence of parental supervision.

The primitive power of life and death over the child, though not legally repealed, had fallen into disuse, in consequence, less of growing refinement, than of the massing of powers that had been distributed into the more and more autocratic sway of the emperor : yet still there seems to have been not a little of tolerated, nay, legalized infanticide in the case of feeble or sickly children, and of those whom it was inconvenient to bring up; a license claimed by Plato, sanctioned by Aristotle, and, so far as I know, accepted without contradiction in all classic antiquity. St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, speaks of the Gentile world in general as "without natural affection." How far this applied to the Roman people of his time we may learn from the frequency with which the property of fathers was wholly diverted from their children, through the devices of stepmothers, the intrigues of legacy-hunters, and the adoption of children from motives of interest or ambition that have no parallel in modern society. Nor yet could the son acquire any thing of his own, or dispose of the earnings of his own industry, with the single exception that under Augustus the wages of sons that served in the army were decreed to be their own property; this, however, not on the score of right and justice, but to facilitate the recruiting of the military service with native citizens (see Appendix II, Note O).

This cursory sketch of the condition of home-life under the ancient civilization may account for the absence of any word corresponding to home in the classic languages, and for the plural form, ædes, in which a house is commonly designated in the Latin; for the house consisted of a quadrangle of apartments, with separate entrances from the central court common to all, and there was no sentiment of family union to unify in thought and speech the several portions of the domicile.

We have seen what the family was when Christ came into the world. He re-established the family by pronouncing the marriage covenant sacred and inviolable. Under his auspices it at once became a religious bond, sanctioned by prayer and by the emblems of the redemption-sacrifice. Tertullian, the earliest of the Latin fathers, writes: " The Church prescribes the contract; holy rites confirm it; the benediction seals it; God ratifies it. The believing husband and wife bear the same yoke: they are of one mind; they pray together; they fast together; they are together in worship, at the Lord's table, in adversity and in prosperity. Divorce is now prohibited; for what God has joined man shall not separate, lest he sin against God. He who has joined alone shall separate." Thus, so fast as Christianity was diffused, chaste and permanent homes, with their shelter, nurture, and love, everywhere grew into being. Con-stantine, though himself probably not very profoundly penetrated with the spirit of Christianity, was, nevertheless, greatly under the influence of the clergy; and, in every feature of his reformatory legislation, we trace their hand and the hand of the Master whom they served. He, by his imperial edict, brought the liberty of divorce within restrictions almost as narrow as those of the Gospel rule, extending the license beyond that limit only to cases in which the accused party had been guilty of homicide, sorcery, or the violation of sepulchres. In this direction legislation rapidly grew more and more rigid, until the one crime which is in itself divorce became the only recognized ground for it (see Appendix II, Note P).

In behalf of children legislation equally followed the leading of Christian sentiment, and gave form and body to its spirit. Constantine, in one of his earliest edicts after his so-called conversion, for the purpose, as he said, of preventing infanticide, provided for the feeding and clothing of the children of destitute parents from the public treasury. At nearly the same time, he secured for the benefit of adult children the income of various offices and professions in both Church and State, equally with the wages of military service. The succeeding Christian emperors vindicated still farther the rights of children, though the very religion which inspired their edicts made them no longer necessary (see Appendix II, Note Q); for the hearts of the fathers were now turned to the children, and of the children to the fathers, so that from that age onward the cases of parental oppression and injustice, whether in life or by will, before normal, have been so rare and exceptional as to arrest general attention and to call forth emphatic condemnation.

From these beginnings sprang the domestic life of modern Christendom, - indissoluble marriage the corner-stone of the edifice, the basis of all the institutions and customs, amenities and endearments, that make ordinary homes peaceful and loving, truly Christian homes types of the family unions in heaven. It is worthy of remark that the marriage institution has been assailed in our own time by the very men, women, and classes of people who profess to have outgrown Christianity; that among these the more advanced, as they term themselves, would retrograde to the condition of things in the most licentious days of Athens and of Rome; and that such modifications of the gospel law of divorce - till of late universal in Christendom - as have been made in this country and in Europe have been resolutely opposed at every stage by the Church, and carried through under the disapproval and protest of its loyal ministers and members.

I am aware that it is sometimes said that civilized Europe owes the purity and sacredness of home relations to the irruption of the Northern tribes into Gaul and Italy, and that the rudiments of the Christian home are to be found in the Germania of Tacitus. I would reply, first, that the Roman home-life in the best days of the republic was equally pure with that of the Germans at the Christian era, and this, because, in either case, idleness and luxury had not engendered vice; secondly, that the domestic revolution had become co-extensive with Christianity before the German element had modified the institutions of southern Europe; thirdly, that the description of Tacitus was very far from being applicable to the Goths, Huns, and Vandals, who were among the chief agents in the destruction of the Western Empire; and, fourthly, that the influence of Christianity on men's home relations may be traced as clearly in those of the southern nations that never had any considerable northern admixture, as in those stocks which became transformed by northern grafts.

Homes worthy of the name are, then, among the gifts of Christianity, and the contrast of modern with ancient civilization in this regard is of itself sufficient to place Christianity foremost among the beneficent forces that have acted on human society.

The work which Christianity has done in the amelioration and abolition of slavery constitutes another of the experimental proofs of its efficacy. In all antiquity, so far as we know, domestic slavery existed as if by a necessity or law of human nature, without rebuke or question even from the severest moralists. The lapse of a free man into slavery, in consequence of debt, captivity, or conquest, was very easy; and as the slave was often of the same or an equal race with his master, or even his superior, as in the case of the numerous Greek slaves in Rome, the social wrong, though not one whit more utterly unjustifiable, must have been more galling and depressing than when the enslaved are of an inferior race. In Rome, by a law of the Twelve Tables, a debtor who remained insolvent after an imprisonment of sixty days, might either be sold into slavery, or killed and his body divided among his creditors. In many communities the slaves largely outnumbered the free population. In Athens there were at one time twenty-one thousand citizens and four hundred thousand slaves. In the little island of Ægina there were four hundred and seventy thousand slaves. Single citizens of Rome sometimes owned from ten to twenty thousand.

Slaves in the Roman Empire had no legal rights, not even the right to life, and no mode of redress for injury. Their evidence was never taken except by torture. If a master was murdered by an unknown person, it was not unusual to put to death all his slaves, even to the number of several thousands; and slaves were not infrequently set up as targets for the fatal archery of the master and his guests, or thrown into the fish-pond to improve the flavor of the lampreys, or put to death to test some novel weapon or mode of slaying, or killed in the wantonness of drunken sport, or crucified for breaking a vase, or dropping a turbot on its way to the table, or mistaking an order of the most trivial import.

Christ and his apostles made no violent onslaught on slavery : if they had, it would have been of no avail. But they recognized the slave's equal humanity with his master, his equal position before God, his equal privileges under the Gospel. Paul sends the fugitive Onesimus home to Philemon, no longer as a slave, but as a brother beloved, and enjoins it upon Philemon in the name of all that is sacred thus to receive him. Masters are reminded that with their Master in heaven there is no respect of persons, and, as in his sight, are bidden to render justice and equity to their slaves.

Accordingly, from the Epistle to Philemon all through the early Christian centuries, among the many historical references - direct and incidental - to slavery, there is not one in which the Church does not show herself the friend of the slave. The Church never admitted the distinction between bond and free as creating any difference under her jurisdiction. Quite a considerable number of the martyrs, held from the first in the highest reverence, and among the earliest canonized, were slaves. Slaves and their children were trained and ordained for offices in the Church, and not a few of the bishops came from the servile rank. The emancipation of slaves was represented as among the most Christian works that could be performed; the business was conducted and registered in the church or through its officials; and, after Sunday began to be observed by the suspension of secular labor, this alone, of all kinds of business, was deemed fit to be done on Sunday. Slaves that anyhow became the property of particular churches were almost invariably set free, and it was early regarded as damaging to the character of an ecclesiastic that he should remain a slaveholder.

With and after Constantine, the law kept even pace with this growth of Christian opinion and feeling. An edict of Constantine first made the killing of a slave criminal homicide; and this edict has a painful historical value in enumerating, as punishable, various most horrible ways of putting slaves to death; which, of course, would not have been named had they not been practised. Thence onward there was an unbroken series of enactments, relieving slaves from disabilities, augmenting their rights, and encouraging their emancipation; till at length, in the twelfth century, at the very climax of the power of the Church, there remained not a vestige of domestic slavery in Christendom (see Appendix II, Note R).

To the shame of modern Christianity, slavery reappeared in our western world; but it would never have survived the initial enterprise, had the arm of the Church been long enough to reach it across the intervening ocean. It had grown with amazing rapidity into a giant wrong and sin before Christian sentiment could be organized and combined in opposition to it. On its own soil it contrived to bribe or awe into silence the feebler and less loyal officials of the Church, and to drive away or keep away those who would have declared their Lord's whole counsel. Yet there never was a time when large numbers and large bodies of Christians did not in the name of Christ denounce slavery and disclaim all fellowship with its abettors; and, from all Christian organizations that remained quiescent, there were numerous secessions of earnest and devout men and women, who raised a revolt against the Church in the name; of its Lord and Master. At length the burden of, guilt which Christian Europe had thrown off long before she knew America has been lifted from this western world by the overmastering might of Christian sentiment, with the entire force of interest, policy, inveterate prejudice, and political time-serving arrayed against it. We cannot believe that the work will ever need to be done again; and, in this final abolition of slavery, Christianity has been nothing less than revolutionary, annulling a class distinction between human owners and human chattels which had existed from the very earliest stages of society that have left any vestiges of their history.

An equally entire revolution has taken place in the theory, and to a large degree in the practice, of government. Said Jesus, " Among the nations the princes exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But among you, whosoever will be great, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant; even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister." The idea of government implied in these words does not seem to have entered into the thought of the ancient world. There were, indeed, humane and beneficent rulers; but they were not so ex officio, if I may use the phrase, - by virtue of their position, and as fulfilling the only condition on which they could rightfully hold their places. Power, in the single or multiform head of a nation, had its rights, but not its commensurate obligations. There was, indeed, an excess of tyranny which a people of spirit would not endure; but that within certain limits the ruler should accumulate treasures for his own sole benefit, wage war for his own sole glory, and conduct his administration for ends in the main self-centred, was precisely what was expected, and deemed entirely legitimate. Now it must be admitted that there are in ancient history few more atrocious specimens of unprincipled, selfish, and brutal despotism than have been exhibited in modern Europe, and, in the kingdom of the Two Sicilies at least, almost to the present day. Yet you will at this moment find it to be the universal opinion in Christendom, that government has a right to exist only for the sake of the governed; that the selfish exercise of power is an abuse of power; that hereditary rights, where they are recognized, are justified only by the necessities of civic and social order, and that they impose charges and services for the body-politic fully equal to the privileges which they confer. At the present time it is the most absolute governments that are the most paternal; it is the most highly privileged aristocracies that are doing the most for their fellow-countrymen and for humanity; many of those who hold chief places in the state acting under the immediate influence of the evangelic principle, that rank and authority can be rightfully held only for purposes of service; and others fully aware that this sentiment is so widely diffused that they can ignore it only to their own ruin. Strange to say, there is more of the old heathen notion of irresponsible right, and less of the spirit of service, in the officials of our own country than in those of any other country in Christendom; but, because we have retroceded from the days when our great men were our chief servants, we should not blind ourselves" to the approach of the whole sisterhood of nations to the ground which it is our honor to have been the first to occupy, our burning shame to have yielded.

I have not time to enter fully into the various other aspects in which Christianity has shown itself a transforming and renovating power. But there is one of its benign ministries, so manifest that only he who was blind at noonday could overlook it, and so familiarly known as to need no long or labored exposition. I refer to the various forms of public, social, collective, institutional charity. These are all of Christian origin. There was, undoubtedly, almsgiving, kindness, generosity, among the ancients of classic history, still more among the Hebrews, whose poor-laws - at the Christian era obsolete - are redolent of a more than human wisdom and love; but when Christ came, there was no organized provision for wants, needs, or infirmities of any description; no plan by which the benefactions or services of the rich or the able could be combined and systematized for the benefit of the poor or the suffering. The nearest approach to such charities was the distribution of wheat among the Roman populace at the charge of the public treasury, and the largesses given to the people by aspirants for their favor. These, however, were not regarded as charitable donatives; but the former as the means of keeping the mob quiet, the latter as an outlay to be remunerated ten times over when the votes thus purchased should place the plunder of a province at the candidate's disposal. But no sooner was the Christian Church gathered than the poor became its care. The primitive deacons were the first official guardians of the poor of whom history gives us knowledge. The earliest systematic contribution for the relief of the needy was that taken up in the churches out of Palestine for the sufferers by famine in and about Jerusalem. We cannot go back to a time when almsgiving was not so essential a part of the service of the eucharist, that, with the reserved portions of the sacred elements carried by the deacons to all who were necessarily absent, substantial supplies from the offertory were bestowed upon the needy. Particular types of calamity and suffering had appropriate provision made for them. The sick, especially the lepers, were sedulously cared for; large sums were raised for the redemption of captives; orphan children became everywhere the children of the Church; strangers, for whom and enemies there had been one and the same name, were now honored guests for the sake of him who owns, as rendered to himself, every generous service and kind office in the name of a common humanity. Even in what are called the dark ages, though many lesser lights were veiled, the lamp of charity suffered no eclipse; and Christendom emerged "from those misnamed centuries, with an apparatus of relief for want and misery, considered with reference to the condition and habits of those times, hardly less efficient than our present modes of philanthropic ministration.

To come down to our own day, when we consider the endless diversity and vast multitude of institutions and appliances for charitable ends of every description; the immense number of liberal givers and self-demoting workers; the still greater number of those who, like the widow at the temple, contribute from their poverty to the Lord's treasury; and the uniform proportion borne by the sincerity and fervor of Christian faith and piety to the promptness and fulness of offerings and services, - we have but a repetition, magnified and multiplied a thousandfold, of the answer of Jesus to John's question, "Art thou he that should come, or look we for another"?

I named a second question as belonging to the subject of this Lecture, - Has any other religion done as much for man as Christianity has, or even placed itself in this respect in favorable comparison with Christianity? I do not believe that there is any need of adding a word to the monosyllabic answer, No. Certainly there is no one of the particulars that have been named, in which Mohammedanism or Buddhism can be even alleged to have had an equally or similarly renovating and benignant influence; and we know of no other religions which it would not be irrelevant to name in such a connection.

Christianity, then, has done for man what it promised to do through the lips and pens of its Author and his apostles, and it has performed for man such services as no other religion has begun or pretended to render. It has thus, on an extended scale, as in its action on individual character, sustained the test of experiment. It has shown itself as from God by doing the works of God. It has attested its divinity by the very marks and tokens which on a priori grounds we should expect a divine religion to exhibit. It has proved its heavenly birth by its heavenly gifts and ministries to man.

Experiment thus confirms testimony, and gives us added assurance that we are not following cunningly devised fables when we own in Jesus Christ the Son of God and the Saviour of the world.

<<  PREV
NEXT  >>