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conception of its relative duration. Though already long-lived to all appearance, it may yet not have passed its youth ; and the span of its coming years may still far exceed those that are past. “Centuries on centuries," it has been well said, “ may be required to discipline fully the human faculties that are to grow into the faith which has been
prepared for them.”? But the standard of duraIts answer. bility which we are now applying is external to
Christianity itself. We compare it as a mundane institution with all things else that are mundane. In these we find but one and the same law. They tend to decay and subversion.
Sic omnia fatis In pejus ruere ac retro sublapsa referri. ? Comp. De Maistre, Euvres, p. 262, ed. Migne: “On parle beaucoup des premiers siècles du Christianisme; en vérité, je ne voudrais pas assurer qu'ils sont passés. Dans un sens l'Église n'a point d'âge. ... Elle se relève avec l'homme, l'accompagne, et le perfectionne dans toutes les situations ; différente en cela et d'une manière frappante de toutes les institutions et de tous les empires humains qui ont une enfance, une virilité, une vieillesse et une fin.”
2 Hutton's Essays, Vol. I. 122: "It is clear that the Divine government of the Jewish race was meant to bring out and did bring out more distinctly the personality of God, while the history of other races brings out more clearly the Divine capacities of man. Hence the co-operation of different nations was requisite for the efficiency of the revelation. Centuries were required for the complete evolution even of that special Jewish history that was selected to testify to the righteous will and defined spiritual character of the Creator. Centuries on centuries will be required to discipline fully the human faculties that are to grow into the faith thus prepared for them.” So also M. Guizot : “Civilization is as yet very young: the world has as yet by no means measured the whole of its career; Human thought is at this time very far from being all that it is capable of becoming: we are very far from comprehending the whole future of humanity.”—Civil, in Europe, p. 18, Ed. Bohn.
It has not been so, however, with the religion of Christ. Its strength is not as its day. Its days are old, if we judge them by man's standard of duration ; yet its powers are unenfeebled. Its youth is renewed as the eagle's, and its years do not fail. The revolutions of the heavenly bodies point to an almost infinite succession of ages, through which they have held on their way. Yet science sketches out the trajectory which is followed by our planetary system. So the world may have a long future still before it; and yet it is permitted us to determine the path of Christianity. The progress indicated, whether in nature or in revelation, is not indefinite, but tends to a limit. But if this observation be deemed presumptuous with the long track behind us of geologic time and prehistoric evolution, it is at least not more so than to proclaim the finality of a positive stage of thought, as the “ be all and end all” of man's estate. Christianity, while proclaiming the ultimate dissolution of things at the last day, leaves its approach indefinite, though its arrival be certain. Already it is possible to apply Tests of some tests of its persistent vitality. For in what durability applicable do the organic forces of any religion consist, or at to religions. the least exhibit themselves ? Surely in their hold
1 " Le cycle du dessin de la Nature semble exiger pour se clore un si long temps que la petite portion que l'humanité en a déjà parcourue ne permet pas d'en déterminer la forme et de conclure la relation des parties au tout, avec plus de sûreté que toutes les observations célestes faites jusqu'à présent ne permettent d'assigner la trajectoire que suit dans le ciel étoilé notre soleil avec toute l'armée de ses satellites. Et cependant remarquons qu'avec le principe général de la constitution systématique de l'univers et avec le peu qu'on a observé, on est autorisé à conclure qu'il existe en effet une telle trajectoire.”—Kant, 1. s. ap. Littré, A. Comte et la Phil. Pos., p. 63.
upon the consciences, lives, and actions of men; in their tendency to extend themselves by conversion of unbelief; and in their power of assimilating healthfully the altered conditions of advancing civilization. This power, if shown to arise from principles contained in the doctrines of the Gospel, furnishes an argument in favour of the truth of Christianity which has the force of prophecy, for they are long prior to the discovery of the general laws of human progress. But the most ancient as well as the most widely-spread religions of the earth, Brahmanism, Buddhism, the faiths of Confucius, Zoroaster, if not also of Mahomet,” show no tendency to propagate themselves. The duty of conversion is no longer felt; its possibility no longer dreamed. Not so with the Churches of the Christian faith, which acknowledge to the full the obligation of missionary labour, whatever be the measure of success attending their fulfilment
of it. Objection $ 8. It is not, of course, denied that ancient from the
1 See the Bishop of Carlisle's lecture on the Gradual Development of Revelation, p. 30.
2 M. Littré has justly remarked that the immobility of a religious belief is a proof of a want of genuine belief in its doctrines; citing India and China as proofs to this fact.–Paroles de la Phil. Pos., p. 35.
religions, false and pernicious, have flourished enormous
antiquity through immense periods. This has been due to of Eastern
religions. the elements of truth? which they contained, “a soul of goodness in things evil;" and still more to its adaptation to the order of the development of belief in the history of primitive culture. Quantum sumus, scimus. “Men must think,” it has been tersely said, “in such terms of thought as they possess.” 2 It is a fact admitting of proof whether Not valid Christianity includes elements answering to truths Christian
ity, which but dimly shadowed forth in heathen systems ; is compre
hensive, in the Triads or Trinities, for example, roughly touched by Brahmanism or Buddhism ; or in the Monotheism of the creed of Mahomet. It has been fairly said, “ Whatever has been found necessary in the course of 6000 years' experience, we have a right to ask of that which offers itself as the one faith for mankind.”3 The question, then, is not one of simple length of date, any more than of the numbers who accept or profess a religion, as if truth were settled by majorities. The test of any
1 “ The spiritual self-respect of individuals, the reconcilement of the conscience by means of atonement, the hopes connected with the unseen world, had all once been provided by Paganism : as they must be by every religion which has had a real historical existence.”—Mackay, Rise and Progress of Christianity. A remark true, but only partially so : for had Paganism actually fulfilled this work, it had never passed away.
? Herbert Spencer, First Principles, p. 116.
3 Maurice's Kingdoms of the World, p. 162. A profound view of the religious history of mankind will regard these religions rather as testimonies than as rivals to the truth of Christianity.
* "Qotep év tais Xecpotoviais.—Lucian, Hermotimus, c. xvi. Compare
system will lie in the character of its doctrines, combined with its permanence as exhibited in their progressive capacity. If Christianity be an imperfect theory of our relations to God and the universe, it must needs prove transitory. Mere antiquity in a fixed locality decides little; though even in this aspect it must be remembered that the faith of Christ must be measured by the age of Judaism. But where still extant, these world-old theologies lack the criteria of permanence. The wild erratic doctrines of Oriental religions have
Max Müller, Chips, I. p. 215. On this point the Reformers protested at Spires in 1529. “ The number of persons holding an idea is no warrant for its objective character, else the many never could be wrong; for uniformity of education, or the sympathy kindled by enthusiasm, may carry many minds into one state in which belief in certain ideas and the mistake of formulæ or usages for external truths will be natural or necessary.”—Newman, Essay on Development, p. 31.
1 “Que l'on considère la perpétuité de la religion Chrétienne, qui a toujours subsisté depuis le commencement du monde, soit dans les saints de l'ancien Testament,” &c.-Pascal, Pensées, II. p. 367. This is flippantly stated by Salvador (Paris, Rome et Jérusalem, I. 243): “Avance, dit-on au Juif, et déclare-nous quel est ton nom. ... ton âge. Mon âge? Deux mille ans de plus que Jésus-Christ.” “If it be said " (writes Dr. Newman, Gramm. of Assent) “ the Oriental religions are older than Christianity by some centuries, it must be recollected that Christianity is only the continuation and conclusion of what professes to be an earlier revelation, which may be traced back into prehistoric times.” “Die Geschichte dieses alten Volkes (Israel) ist im Grunde die Geschichte der durch alle Stufen bis zur Vollendung sich ausbildenden wahren Religion welche auf diesem engen Volksgebiete durch alle Kämpfe hindurch sich bis zum höchsten Siege erhebt und endlich in aller Herrlichkeit und Macht sich offenbart; um dann von da aus durch ihre eigene Kraft sich unwiderstehlich verbreitend nie wieder verloren zu gehen, sondern ewiger Besitz und Segen aller Völker zu werden."-Ewald, Gesch. d. V. Israel, I. 9, whose testimony to the eternity of Christianity I could not willingly omit.