WHAT IS CHRISTIANITY? *
• Theological Review for October. Article 3: On the Bang. of Uhristiso Fellowship.' London : Williams and Norgste. AN article with the title " The Range of Christian Fellowship," in the current number of the Theological Review, invites some words of comment from us. It is an able and temperate protest against a form of liberal dogmatism which the writer (Mr. Cox, better known as " Presbyter Anglicanns") believes this journal to illustrate, and we welcome an opportunity of defining our position, under criticism so intelligent and, in the main, so sympathetic. The aim of the writer is one with which all who believe that the invisible world is a source of conviction and a region of order- must have the fullest sympathy. In face of " the chilling and blighting influences of an Agnostic philosophy," he urges an ex- pansion of the idea of Christian fellowship to include all who believe "that God is teaching and guiding us, and whose highest wish is to quicken this conviction in our fellow-men." The dis- covery that hindrances are set up in the way of this wide union by men for whom he would have supposed that " the terms of Christian commission would be as wide as those put forth by St. Peter in his words before the centurion Cornelius," fills him with - profound discouragement. The opposition of orthodoxy to the-; state of mind he describes with force and pathos is, he allows, intelligible enough. If the acceptance of a set of dogmas be a test of Christianity, if an infallible Book contain, or an in- fallible Church embody, the belief which actually constitutes Christianity, there is no more to be said. But if men have begun with rejecting this view, if, in reading the Bible or the Creeds, they aim at distinguishing truth and error, how can they divide themselves from others who carry their own method a little farther than they do ? How can they make a new test of orthodoxy when their most earnest protest is against the very pretension of orthodoxy ?
This is exactly what he thinks the Spectator does. He mentions- this journal by name, as a type of a new kind of dogmatism, which having broken loose from the old lines, proceeds to sur- render all the advantages of liberalism by setting up new standards of authoritative truth, as exclusive as the old, and inasmuch as they come from those who have broken with tradition, less reasonable. He mentions as specimens of this forfeiture of the advantages of tradition, on the one hand, and of inquiry, on the other, certain views about the history and nature- of Christ, when they are brought forward (and he thinks we have- thus brought them forward) as tests and standards of what is the very meaning of our faith. Christian fellowship, he thinks, should include all who find their ideal in Christ ; this is the most natural, meaning of the word, and was the only teat imposed by him who. alone had the right to impose any test. Why should we demand, more than he demanded ?-- " What if a man says, 'I can and do accept most heartily that great system of moral teaching which the New Testament ascribes to Jesus. Christ ; I believe most firmly that this teaching relieved the world of
burdens which must have become intolerable ; that in him there were a strength and purity of love such as the world has never seen before or since; that his life has turned the course of history, and that its effects in the future will be more momentous and more beneficial than any we have thus far experienced ; I am convinced that the man who lives according to his teaching has his house built upon the rock, against which winds and tempests shall beat in vain, and that Christ himself regarded all
such as his true followers and disciples.' But it is impossible for me to rest my faith ultimately on any ground which may be cut away from beneath my feet. When I am told that my hope of a life after what wo call death is justified only by the reanimation of the crucified body of Christ, after its three days' sojourn in the sepulchre, I can but repeat my conviction that he is risen, and that being thus raised, he dies no more, and death has no more dominion over him ; while I express my assurance that for every man the moment of death, as we call it, is the moment of resurrection, and that no other resurrec- tion is possible. Is it wise or prudent, still more, felt just, to speak of a man who uses such language as lying beyond the pale of Christ- ianity ?" (pp. 503-4.)
We should gladly transcribe the whole article, for there is
hardly a word in it which does not appear to us worthy of serious thought, and never was there a time when such considerations as it brings forward were more needed. But in spite of our sympathy with the writer—in spite of the fact that a good deal of what we have said in trying to express his view just as much expresses our own—still there is a real difference between him and us. We
gather from the whole tone of the article that the miraculous element in Christ's history may be left an open question by one who reverences Christ. We, on the contrary, hold that whatever may be said of particular incidents, no one can regard the whole supernatural aspect of that history as a delusion without sup- posing that Christ shared in that delusion ; and we protest, not in the favour of any particular truth, but of truth itself, that one so deluded is no fit object of reverence.
However, we think this real difference between us is compli- cated by a misunderstanding. Perhaps it is almost impossible not to confuse the two distinct questions, " What do you mean when you say a man is a Christian ?" and, " What are the conse- quences of rejecting Christianity?" The confusion is, indeed, the creation of history. For about 1,400 years, from the first triumph of Christianity almost to our own day, whatever else a man
might renounce in rejecting the name of Christian, he certainly lost with it all full claim .en the name of citizen. From the day when all but the orthodox were disqualified for civil office under the Emperor Honorius to the day when Dr. Arnold wrote, apropos
of the distinction between the disabilities of the Catholics and the Jews, " I would thank Parliament for having done away with the distinctions between Christians and Christians ; I would pray that distinctions be kept up between Christians and non-Christians," Christianity was associated with a man's civil status, and gathered round it all those associations, so far-reaching and so nearly indelible, which fill out the ideal of citizenship. One who denied Christianity was for ages a criminal, dealt with more and more leniently, till, by slow degrees, be was transferred to the position
of the Peregrinus, claiming, indeed, from the laws protection of person and property, but denied all rights that belong to a member of the State. And this is exactly what Dr. Arnold wished him to
remain It brings forcibly home to the mind the rapid movement of thought in our day, to remember that it is only forty years since a wise man thought it possible for the State to exclude from its inner circle all but Christians, and yet Dr. Arnold's words mark clearly enough the near down- fall of the ideal which their writer was hoping to retain. He, no doubt, believed that in changing the test of citizenship from orthodoxy to Christianity he was making this ideal not only more righteous, but more practical, but the fact is that the effect of the change is exactly the other way,—that whereas any one can ascertain whether a man who wants a degree or political office has signed the Thirty-nine Articles
or taken the Sacrament, nobody knows even exactly what you mean when you ask whether such a man is a Christian. And only three years after Dr. Arnold, in 1886, wrote the words we have quoted, conceding that a man might be a citizen optimo jure, without being a Protestant of the Church of England, Macaulay,
with his usual felicity in expressing ideas already familiar to the average cultivated intelligence, pointed out what was really in-
cluded in that concession,—that a man might be a citizen optimo jure without making any religious profession at all. Our aims, he urged (in his review of Mr. Gladstone's work on Church and State), should be decided not only by our desires for what is ex-
cellent, but by our judgment of what is possible, and the experi- ence of many ages has clearly shown that while the State en-
counters a number of obvious evils in appending secular advan- tages to religious professions, it does not thereby contribute to the advancement of religious truth. And there has long ceased to be any need to urge that side of the question. Obviously a power which cannot read the heart had better not profess to read the heart;. unquestionably, the aims in which men are united had better not be sacrificed to those in which they are profoundly at variance.- But the triteness of such reasonings should not blind us to their comparative novelty. The conclusion to which they point—the absolute passiveness of the State in the face of all religious belief —would have seemed startling error to almost all the great men of the past ; for hundreds of generations the opposite belief was woven into the very web of political life. And what the fathers have taken for granted, acted on, suffered and died. for, does not lose its hold upon the sons when they cease to be- lieve it. Premises on which men have ceased to reason still live in both the deeper and more superficial region of their nature, the belief that is vehemently denied in one assertion is illogically assumed in the next, and again and again we discover with sur- prise how long desire and taste retain the mould of vanished con- viction, and how durable is this fossil record of what men have once believed, and believe no longer.
For Christianity still presents itself to men's minds stamped with some misleading likeness to civil claim. When a writer tries to set forth, as any one must who puts forth any thought at all as to the invisible world, what he considers the core and centre of the great truth which the word " Christianity" indicates, he is still supposed to draw a line shutting out a certain number of persons from something that, if it is not citizenship in the eye of the law, has yet an analogous character to citizenship in that social world with which most of us have even more to do. Or else (and this, we believe, is more in point here) it is thought that he projects this distinction into futurity, and makes some decision as to the state of these excluded persons after their passage out of this world. Let us plainly disavow any such inference from our view of Christianity. We have no further theory on the position of those who reject or ignore the truths it involves, than the conviction that the consequences of rejecting or ignoring truth must be important in proportion to the importance of the truth in question, and that what we try inadequately to point out by the word " Christianity " is the greatest truth that has ever been made known to man. No doubt we claim from Mr. Cox and every rational being that he shall agree with us on the first of these premises, that no one should deny that if a man's• way lies to the east he will lose something by going to the weak that if he needs heat he will suffer by cold,—that, in short, the opposite of whatever is for his advantage is for his disadvantage. But we do not expect any one to think Christianity valuable who does not think it true ; in the ears as on the lips of such a one we think it ought to be the mere description of a certain belief, and of all that belief implies. Of course, this belief implies a moral ideal, and this moral ideal has become, to some extent, the standard of modern civilisation, so that there is a sense in which you may say a man has no more choice about being a Christian than about being an Englishman ; but both Mr. Cox and we are trying to determine what a certain influence is at its focus, and not to determine the limit at which this influence ceases to act. In the refracted ray, the chemical influence extends beyond the illuminating power of light, but still light is something to see by. The " dark rays" of Truth may, in like manner, be separated from those which the eye can recognise, but in their natural condition the two are blended, and we must speak of Christianity as something coherent and entire, if we speak of it at all.
It has been finely said of Burke that "his mind lay parted like a continent separated by some vast convulsion of nature, each portion peopled by its own race, differing in aspect and lan- guage, and committed in eternal hostility to each other." The simile might be applied to many smaller men ; the Christian ideal rules in many a heart, while the intellectual attitude towards. Christianity is that of vehement or frigid repudiation. The deci- sive question is,—On which side does the man truly live? Which is the growing power in him,—the thing that denies, or the thing that aspires ? Whichever way this question be answered con- cerning an individual (and it is a question few would undertake to answer concerning individuals), it is certain that the influence which calls forth these aspirations is something that puts forth its upon the whole being. Certainly we should not exclude from its range any one in the state of mind described in the pas- sage we began by quoting. To accept Christ as a guide is to be a Christian. But a person in that state of mind (to read that passage by the light of the context) seems to us in a condition of unstable equilibrium. As far as we understand Mr. Cox's posi- tion, or rather the position of the imaginary person in whose month he puts those words, the whole miraculous element in the history of Christ is regarded by him as fictitious assertion, something which it was natural for ignorant people to think then, but impossible for cultivated people to think now. But to us there is hardly any single fact in the life of Christ so certain as his sharing the impression he produced,—that he stood in some peculiar relation to the world of nature, nearer to the very foun- tain-head of causation than ordinary men. A selection from the Gospels—even the Synoptics—carefully preserving all beside, but omitting this element, would appear to us not so much a mutilated picture of their present subject as a picture of some other person. We can imagine everything else sooner exposed to doubt than this. We do not mean that the fact that he ad work miracles is as certain as anything we know about him —though we profoundly believe that he did—but that the fact that he believed himself able to do so is as certain as anything we know about him. Now, if this was a delusion, it would be still possible, no doubt, to retain much sympathy towards one whose life would in this light present so tragic a picture of baffled illusion ; it would be possible to regard him with profound compassion, and even with a certain respect. Inasmuch as his life has changed the course of history, we admit that something of the prophetic spirit must be granted him, even if we are obliged to say he misunderstood his whole position in the world. He may still remain such an example as Gibbon finds in Mahommed or Socrates of the way in which " a wise man may deceive himself, a good man may deceive others." But it would appear to us nothing short of idolatry to apply to zilch a being the expressions we have quoted from "Presbyter Anglicanns." We do not say this on any principle peculiar to religion. It is a principle of common-sense, a rule of the every- day business of life, not to trust a man's judgment in anything whose view of his own position is erroneous. Every one does act on this rule, we are certain, in matters which affect the interest of this life ; you would give up all joint action, not to say sub- missive action, with anybody in whose self-estimate you discovered a delusion that could be paralleled with the one which, on what seems to us Mr. Cox's view, you must read into the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Why should it be otherwise in the spiritual world ? Any lowering of the standard of troth when the line is crossed which divides the unseen world from the seen is a great evil. It must make the world in which truth is less important vague and unreal, and this is the least harm it does. It loosens the moral hold on truth as the pledge and test of all that is• heroic and aspiring, it violates that loyalty to the world of fact which is the condition of all large achieve- ment. So inconsistent is human nature, that it may be a stage in the mental history of many who are themselves incapable of the weakness they impute to Christ, but it is not a condition in which any thoughtful mind and earnest spirit can abide.
Therefore, we consider that any homage paid to Christ by one who begins by supposing him mistaken is the ex- pression of a state of mind which must develop in the direc- tion of less reverence or more trust. A man may come to say, " If I cannot trust him about his own nature, can I trust him about the ideal for humanity ? Or he may come to say, 4, If I may trust his ideal of humanity, may I not trust his self- estimate ? " What we would here protest against is the attempt to separate these things, to let reverence flow where trust cannot follow, to mould life by the ideal of one whose own life was a dream.
The attempt is certainly futile. In calling the state of mind transitional, we speak not of what ought to be, but what is. Many things may delay the transition ; so much stronger is emotion than thought that a dim recollection or an imperfect sym- pathy may each prove too much for logic, and hold at bay for a time the conclusion that wrenches us from the past. But in the long-run thought is logical, and that course of thought which begins by denying the possibility of a position Christ believed himself to occupy is inexorably divergent from Christianity. It diverges slowly at first, but it diverges surely, for the love of truth acts as a persistent force, urging it towards a goal far away from Christianity, and the homage to science which is so char- acteristic of our day tends peculiarly to sharpen and intensify the love of truth.
With regard to the crowning miracle of Christ's life, belief in which Mr. Cox thinks we make the test of Christianity, we would reply that the belief in the alleged facts seems to us specially important in this region, as the most critical illustration of the principle we have already insisted on. We concede that the histori- cal evidence of the resurrection might well fail to convince any
one who had not been already prepared for it by the story of Christ's life and teaching, and we disclaim such an inversion of St. Paul's argument as to make that event, taken alone, the sole basis of our hope of immortality. On the other hand, we hold that for those who find Christ's own view of his position the only conceivable one, it is almost impossible not to believe that the event which is irreversible with others was reversible with him. We believe that the evidence of history points to the occur- renc of such a reversal just at this point of time, and we are sure that the only easy and natural way of explain- ing the accounts of his reappearance, while denying any supernatural element in it, is to make the truly mon- strous supposition that he took part in a fraud. Equally are we sure that St. Paul could not have understood what good tidings there were to announce to a groaning world, if he might not declare that Christ had risen from the dead. Doubtless the question must be to a great extent determined by the anticipations which are raised by Christ's life. The evidence for the Resurrection is rightly held adequate by him to whom it is an illustration of a law already all but demonstrated, while one who seeks in it the sole proof of that law will probably find it insufficient. And the only sense in which we would make this belief a test of Christianity is that we believe this narrative does, and will more and more, address itself to those who most adequately realise that power the law of which is what constitutes Christianity, and that this belief points out the focus of the influ- ence we are trying to describe when we speak of Christianity. We are far from saying that many may not feel this influence without standing at its focus, but, perhaps, as denial gathers strength, belief must either wane or gather intensity. If this be so, it may be that, as a matter of fact, the Resurrection of Christ will prove the touchstone of trust in that reality which• was set forth in his life.
Certainly we who believe that the power which was manifested in his life—the power of the unseen—is the ultimate force of the world, have every reason to make the most of all bonds which unite us with those who feel it in any degree. The spirit of the age, we feel, as Mr. Cox does, is against us both. The intellectual activity that is characteristic of our time is opposed to all those who believe in a world of which the microscope, the balanee, the thermometer, and all that marvellous apparatus for detecting the forces of nature which seems in its sensitive accuracy to em- body a more than human intelligence, gives no indication. The isolation which is so well described in the pages we are noticing is no small misfortune, but it is part of an experience in which we may find sympathy with almost all the great spirits of the past, and we believe, in a companionship that is mightier still.