One of the most terribly significant tendencies of the present day is a toleration that will embrace everything but Christianity in its purity. Within its ample folds evil of every kind is sheltered and nursed.
This tolerance will tell the heathen that his religion is not error but truth—half truth, they say, and Christianity can supply the rest—heathen cults to form the foundation, Christianity to build the superstructure.
It is quite the fashion for people to talk nowadays about “comparative religions.” By that is meant the Christian religion, the Buddhist, Mahommedan, Confucian religions, etc. They put them side by side and compare them, and they have professed to discover that there is no difference in essence, only in form. But between the comparative religions of the world and Christianity there is no comparison. They are not in the same category. Their difference lies not in shape and size, but in the nature of their texture. Essentially, in their source, scope, and effects, they have nothing in common, save where comparative religion may have borrowed, and even then the borrowed matter can no more be assimilated than water and oil may be mixed. Their borrowed matter lies like sparkling gems upon a dung-heap.
A deceased celebrated London preacher made a very true remark. He was speaking about comparative religions, and added the significant sentence, “But remember, gentlemen, that Christianity is not one of them.”
It is the difference between man’s handiwork and God’s. One is the arrangement at best of dead matter. God’s power is seen in life. “This is the finger of God.”
The study of comparative religions may be an interesting literary study, but the claims of Christianity are vital, and may not be refused save at the risk of the soul’s eternal doom.
And it is just here that we would point out a very remarkable contrast between Christianity and the false religions of the world.
Comparative religions agree in making their gods out of men. A late popular writer, Mr Grant Allen, describes the process in one of his books.
The process, outlined by him, roughly speaking is this. In the early days of the world a man would thrust himself into the chieftainship of his tribe by strength of will, force of character, and physical powers. There being no printing and very little writing in those days, on his death the tales of his courage and deeds of daring would form the theme for many a night’s entertainment round the camp fires when the day’s bunting or fighting was over. As these tales were handed down from father to son they would not lose in the telling. The greater the boastfulness of the story-teller, the more popular be would be. At length the tales would get far beyond the length of human possibility, and in this rough-and-ready way the ancient chieftain was apotheosized.
This writer attempted to prove that Jaheveh, or Jehovah, was simply a tribal deity belonging to the Israelites, and manufactured in the same way as the gods of the heathen.
He finds the Bible stories of the fall and the deluge are more or less common to the sacred writings of the heathen religions but he forgets they come from same source, that is, from the knowledge men possessed of God in the beginning of the world’s history and their acquaintance with events of such far reaching consequence and magnitude as the fall and the deluge. Indeed, if the account of these things were only in the Bible it would be held as a great proof of the unveracity of the Scriptures, for it would be rightly asked, How is it that these great facts of history are unknown outside the records of a small nation, and in no wise mentioned by the Hindu or the Chinese with their ancient histories? But it is remarkable how much more fully they are placed on record in the Hebrew writings, “undisfigured by the puerilites” and impossibilities that accompany the scanty records of heathen peoples. But there is one vital difference between Christianity and heathen religions the writer has not pointed out. That he could have overlooked it I cannot believe, for it is such a manifest, essential difference. The writer is on the horns of a dilemma. If he overlooked the fact, it says exceedingly little for his perception; if he noticed it, and did not give the full weight of evidence to it, it says less for his honesty.
The difference is this. In the religions described by this book, man becomes God in heathen belief. In Christianity alone do we have the sublime conception and the glorious fact of God becoming Man for the purpose, as Man, of making atonement for His creatures’ sin, and in ascending to heaven, when once His work was done, and remaining Man for ever, though never less than God, from all eternity to all eternity. God and Man—one Person—first in the world His hands had made, and then in heaven.
“Jesus, the Lord, the crucified
In glory still the same.”
Where did this sublime and unique conception come from? The ideas of the heathen in the main are a mixture of folly and demonology. Why should one Book alone present such a thought as we have been considering; where did a race, isolated, proud, narrow, obtain this thought which has delighted the wisest of men in all ages? The writers of the Book had not the great privileges of the present-day “higher critics.” They had not a tithe of their academical advantages. There is only one answer that can adequately satisfy the demands of the case: “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” At one bound we are clear out of the dark valley of unbelief, reeking with the pernicious miasma of infidel and reckless minds, and have emerged into the clear, bright, warm sunshine of the mountaintop of everlasting truth and love.
Who was Isaiah, and where did he get his knowledge when seven centuries before Christ was born he prophesied that a virgin should be with child? No mere guesser with an uninspired pen would throw away his reputation on such a statement, impossible to all but faith. And whoever heard of a child with such names given him as Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, the Father of Eternity (N.Tr.), the Prince of Peace? Surely this can be no product of human intellect or imagination. A man’s mind cannot soar beyond itself. If God had not made the stars, no one could have conceived the idea of them. How much more in the realm of truth!
And when we come to the actual record of God becoming Man, the chosen penman is a fisherman from the banks of an obscure lake in a despised and downtrodden land. One of a band of “ignorant and unlearned men.” Who but the wilfully blind can note the language and thoughts of John’s Gospel and deny its heavenly origin, its divine conception, its sublimity, its majesty, and yet its beauty and tenderness?
It brings before us the most affecting of all presentations, that of “God manifest in the flesh.” Not the glory rising to God as the result of a perfect Man glorifying God on this earth, as in Luke’s Gospel, but the very glory of God, veiled as to its outward manifestation, yet none the less there in all its fullness, the glory of the Invisible, descending to earth to make God known in all His wondrous character of love, the very essence of His being, for “God is love.”
And meditating on this wondrous fact, to be apprehended by us, if not comprehended, for what creature can comprehend, that is, fully grasp, the infinite glory of such a fact, we are put upon the right lines in our soul. Once the vision of this has passed before our souls in power we must refuse to descend to the low level of the world, even on its highest and most alluring side, and be delivered perforce from anti-Christian influences. As the melted wax receives the impression of the royal seal, so it retains the impression. In like manner, if we receive the mighty impress of this royal fact, we shall retain the impression by being like Christ in holy separateness from the world, ready to stoop, ready to yield, ready to serve, however humbly, where yielding and stooping and serving will be moral greatness, and not the yielding up of principles of the truth.
Of course, only God could stoop and become Man. We are men. We shall never be anything else. But the moral effect of the great fact we have been considering will be to fashion us after the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:3-8).