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The Church and Modern Life by Washington Gladden

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Transcriber's Note: Footnotes have been renumbered and moved to the end
of the book.

The Church and Modern Life


Washington Gladden



"The time is come," said a New Testament prophet, "for judgment to begin
at the house of God." Perhaps that time ought never to pass, but if, in
any measure, the criticism of the church has of late been suspended, it
is certainly reopened now, in good earnest. Nor is this criticism
confined to outsiders; the church is forced to listen in these days to
caustic censures from those who speak from within the fold.

That such self-criticism is needed these chapters will not deny. That
the church is passing through a critical period must be conceded. But
the way of life is not obscure, and it seems almost absurd to indulge
the fear that the church, which has been providentially guided through
so many centuries, will fail to find it.

These pages have been written in the firm belief that the Christian
church has its great work still before it, and that it only needs to
free itself from its entanglements and gird itself for its testimony to
become the light of the world. Something of what it needs to do to make
ready for this great future, this little book tries to show.

Through all this study the thought has constantly returned to the young
men and women to whom the future of the church is committed; and while
the book is most likely first to fall into the hands of their pastors
and teachers, the author hopes that ways will be found of conveying its
message to those by whom, in the end, its truth will be made effective.

W. G.

First Congregational Church,
Columbus, Ohio, December 17, 1907.


I. The Roots of Religion
II. Our Religion and Other Religions
III. The Social Side of Religion
IV. The Business of the Church
V. Is the Church Decadent?
VI. The Coming Reformation
VII. Social Redemption
VIII. The New Evangelism
IX. The New Leadership

The Church and Modern Life


The Roots of Religion

The church with which we are to deal in the pages which follow is the
Christian church in the United States, comprising the entire body of
Christian disciples who are organized into religious societies, and are
engaged in Christian work and worship.

This church is not all included in one organization; it is made up of
many different sects and denominations, some of which have very little
fellowship with the rest. Among these groups are some who claim that
their particular organizations are the true and only churches; that the
others have no right to the name. Such is the claim of the Roman
Catholic church and of the High Church Episcopalians. Their use of the
word church would confine it to those of their own communions. Others
would apply the term more broadly to all who _profess and call_
themselves Christians, and who are united in promoting the teachings
and principles of the Christian religion.

The church, as thus defined, has no uniform and authoritative creed, and
no ruling officers or assemblies who have a right to speak for it; it is
difficult, therefore, to make any definite statements about it. It is
possible, nevertheless, to think of all these variously organized groups
of people as belonging to one body. In some very important matters they
are united. They all believe in one God, the Father Almighty; they all
bear the name of Christ; they all acknowledge him as Lord and Leader;
they all accept the Bible as containing the truth which they profess to
teach. The things in which they agree are, indeed, far more important
than the things in which they differ, and it is our custom often to
speak of this entire body of Christian disciples as "the church,"
forgetting their differences and emphasizing their essential unity. This
is the meaning which will be given to "the church" in these discussions.

The church is concerned with religion. As the interest of the state is
politics, of the bank finance, of the school education, so the interest
of the church is religion. Religion organizes the church, and the
church promotes religion.

Religion is a fact of the first magnitude. We sometimes hear ministers
complaining that the people do not give it so much attention as they
ought, but we shall find it true in all countries and in all the
centuries that it is one of the main interests of human life. There are
few subjects, probably there is no other subject, to which the human
race has given so much thought as to the subject of religion. The
greatest buildings which have been erected on this planet were for the
service of religion; more books have been written about it than about
any other theme; a large part of the world's art has had a religious
impulse; many, alas! of the most destructive wars of history have been
prompted by it; it has laid the foundations of great nations, our own
among them, and has given form and direction to every great civilization
under the sun.

It is not a churchman, or a theologian, it is Mr. John Fiske, one of the
foremost scientific investigators, who has said of religion: "None can
deny that it is the largest and most ubiquitous fact connected with the
existence of mankind upon the earth."[1]

About the size of the fact there is no disputing, but how shall we
explain it? Where did it come from?

The scientific people have puzzled their heads not a little over the
question where the life on this planet came from. They cannot make up
their minds to say that it came from non-living matter; and some of them
have ventured a guess that the first germs might have been brought by a
meteorite from some distant planet. That, however, only pushes the
mystery one step further back: how did it come to be on that distant

The origin of religion has furnished a similar puzzle to these
investigators. There are those among them who assume that religion is an
invention of crafty men who find it a means of obtaining ascendency over
their fellows. That it is all imposture--the product of priestcraft--is
the theory of some small philosophers. Such being the case, they expect
that the progress of knowledge will cause it to disappear.

To others it seems probable that religious ideas may have originated in
the phenomena of dreams. In the visions of the night those who have
passed out of life reappear; this gives room for the belief that they
are still in existence, and suggests that there may be another world
whose inhabitants exert an important influence over the affairs of this
world. According to this ghost theory, religion is all an illusion.

Such crude explanations are, however, not much credited in these days by
thoughtful men. It is easy to see that the foundations of religion are
deeply laid in human nature. Aristotle told a great truth, many
centuries ago, when he said that man is a political animal. That is to
say, there is a political instinct in him which causes him to organize
political societies and make laws; he is a state builder in the same way
that the beaver is a dam builder, or the oriole is a nest builder, or
the bee is a comb builder.

With equal truth we may say that man is a religious animal. The impulse
that causes him to worship, to trust, to pray, is as much a part of his
constitution as is the homing instinct of the pigeon. This natural
instinct is, however, reinforced by the operation of his reason. Feeling
is deeper than thought; we are moved by many impulses before we frame
any theories. But the normal human being sooner or later begins to try
to explain things; his reason begins to work upon the objects that he
sees and the feelings that he experiences. And it is not long before
something like what Charbonnel describes must take place in every human

"Every man has within him a sense of utter dependence. His mind is
irresistibly preoccupied by the idea of a Power, lost in the immensity
of time and space, which, from the depths of some dark mystery, governs
the world. This power, at first, seems to him to manifest itself in the
phenomena of nature, whose grandeur surpasses the power or even the
comprehension of mankind."[2]

Toward this unknown power, or powers, his thought reaches out, and he
begins to try to explain it or them. He forms all kinds of crude and
fantastic theories about these invisible forces. At first he is apt to
think that there are a great many of them; it is long before he clearly
understands that there can be but One Supreme. The moral quality of the
being or beings whom he thus conceives is not clearly discerned by him;
he is apt to think them fickle, jealous, revengeful, and cruel; most
often he ascribes to them his own frailties and passions.

In some such way as this, then, religion begins. It is the response of
the human nature to impressions made upon the mind and heart of man by
the universe in which he lives. These impressions are not illusions,
they are realities. All men experience them. Something is here in the
world about us which appeals to our feelings and awakens our intellects.
Being made as we are, we cannot escape this influence. It awes us, it
fills us with wonder and fear and desire.

Then we try to explain it to ourselves, and in the beginning we frame a
great many very imperfect explanations. Sometimes we imagine that this
power is located in some tree or rock or river; sometimes it is an
animal; sometimes it is supposed to exist in invisible spirits or
demons; sometimes the sky or the ocean represents it, or one of the
elements, like fire, is conceived to be its manifestation; sometimes the
greater planets are the objects of reverence; sometimes imaginary
deities are conceived and images of wood or stone are carved by which
their attributes are symbolized.

These religious conceptions of the primitive races seem to us, now, as
we look back upon them from the larger light of the present day, to be
grotesque and unworthy; we wonder that men could ever have entertained
such notions of deity, and we are sometimes inclined, because of these
crudities, to dismiss the whole subject of religion as but a farrago of
superstitions. But these imperfect conceptions do not discredit
religion; they are rather witnesses to its reality. You might as well
say that the speculations and experiments of the old alchemists prove
that there is no truth in chemistry; or that the guesses of the
astrologers throw doubt on the science of astronomy. The alchemists and
the astrologers were searching blindly for truth which they did not
find, but the truth was there; the fetish worshipers and the magicians
and the idolaters were also, as Paul said, seeking after the unknown
God. But they were not mistaken in the principal object of their search;
what they sought was there, and the pathetic story of the long quest for
God is a proof of the truth of Paul's saying, that God has made men and
placed them in the world "that they should seek God, if haply they might
feel after him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us."
It was not a delusion, it was a tremendous reality that they were
dealing with. The fact that they but dimly conceived it does not lessen
the greatness of the reality.

Not many intelligent thinkers in these days doubt the reality and the
permanence of religion. Herbert Spencer did not profess to be a
Christian believer; by many persons he was supposed to be an enemy of
the Christian religion; yet no man has more strongly asserted the
permanency and indestructibility of religion. As to the notion that
religions are the product of human craft and selfishness, he says: "A
candid examination of the evidence quite negatives the doctrine
maintained by some that creeds are priestly inventions."[3] And again:
"An unbiased consideration of its general aspects forces us to conclude
that religion, everywhere present as a weft running through the warp of
human history, expresses some eternal fact."[4] And again: "In Religion
let us recognize the high merit that from the beginning it has dimly
discerned the ultimate verity and has never ceased to insist upon it....
For its essentially valid belief, Religion has constantly done battle.
Gross as were the disguises under which it at first espoused this
belief, and cherishing this belief, though it still is, under
disfiguring vestments, it has never ceased to maintain and defend it. It
has everywhere established and propagated one or other modification of
the doctrine that all things are manifestations of a power that
transcends our knowledge."[5]

That religion is, in John Fiske's strong phrase, an "everlasting
reality" is a fact which few respectable thinkers in these days would
venture to call in question. But, as we have seen, this reality takes
upon itself a great variety of forms. Looking over the world to-day, we
discover many kinds of religion. Religious ideas, religious rites and
ceremonies, religious customs and practices, as we gather them up and
compare them, constitute a variegated collection.

Professor William James has a thick volume entitled "The Varieties of
Religious Experience," in which he brings together a vast array of the
documents which describe the religious feelings and impulses of persons
in all lands and all ages. It is not a study of creeds or philosophies
of religion, it is a study of personal religious experiences; of the
fears, hopes, desires, contritions, joys, and aspirations of men and
women of all lands and ages, as they have been dealing with the fact of

Not only do we find many different kinds of religion existing side by
side upon this planet; we also find that each of these types has been
undergoing constant changes in the course of the centuries. To trace the
religious development of any people from the earliest period to the
present day is a most instructive study.

Take our own religion. Christianity is not an independent form of faith.
Its roots run down into the Hebrew religion, whose record is in the Old
Testament; and the Hebrew religion grew out of the old Semitic faiths,
and these again sprang from the ancient Babylonian religions or grew
alongside of them. So we are compelled to go far back for the origin of
many of our own religious ideas. Jesus did not claim to be the Founder
of a new religion; he claimed only to bring a better interpretation of
the religion of his people. He said that he came not to destroy but to
fulfill the law and the prophets. The New Testament religion is a
development of the Old Testament religion. It is a wonderful growth.
When we go hack to the old monuments and the old documents and trace the
progress of religious beliefs and practices from the earliest days to
our own, we learn many things which are well worth knowing.

The central fact of religious progress is improvement in the conception
of the character of God. As the ages go by, men gradually come to think
better thoughts about God. Little by little the old crude and savage
notions of deity drop out of their minds, and they learn to think of him
as just and faithful and kind.

The Bible shows us many signs of this progress. The earlier stories
about God give him a far different character from that which appears in
the later prophets. It was believed by the earlier Hebrews that God
desired to have them put to death all the inhabitants of the land of
Canaan when they took possession of it; and when they put to the sword
not only the armed men of the land, but the women and the little
children, they supposed that they were obeying the command of God. They
learned better than that, after a while.

When Abraham started with Isaac for Mount Moriah, he undoubtedly
thought that he should please God by putting to death his own
well-beloved son; but before he had done the dreadful deed the
revelation came to him that that was a terrible mistake; he saw that God
was not pleased by human sacrifices. That was a great day in the history
of religion. Because of that experience, Abraham was able to make his
descendants believe the truth that had been given to him, and from that
time onward human sacrifices probably ceased among the Hebrews. A long
step had been taken toward the purification of the idea of God of one of
its most degrading elements.

This superstition lingered long in other faiths; probably it survived
among our own ancestors after Abraham's day. Tennyson's poem, "The
Victim," is a vivid picture of human sacrifice among the Teutonic

"A plague upon the people fell,
A famine after laid them low;
Then thorpe and byre arose in fire,
For on them brake the sudden foe;
So thick they died the people cried,
'The Gods are moved against the land.'
The priest in horror about his altar
To Thor and Odin lifted a hand:
'Help us from famine
And plague and strife!
What would you have of us?
Human life?
Were it our nearest,
Were it our dearest,--Answer,
O answer!--
We give you his life.'"

The Gods seemed to say that the victim must be either the king's wife or
the king's child; which it should be, was the terrible question that the
king had to answer. The choice seemed to have fallen on the child, but
the wife would not have it that he was the king's dearest, and she
rushed to her own immolation. The poem reflects the common notion of
those dark days, that the angry Gods could only be propitiated by the
slaughter of those whom men loved the best. From this horrible idea the
Jewish people were delivered by the insight of their great ancestor.

Dark notions about God still lingered among them, however, and the Old
Testament record shows us how they slowly disappeared. Moses and Samuel
were good men for their time, but the God whom they worshiped was a very
different being from the God of Hosea or of the later Isaiah.

This development of the idea of God has been going on in modern times.
It is not long since devout men were in the habit of saying that God's
displeasure with the wickedness of cities was exhibited in the scourges
of cholera and scarlet fever in which multitudes of little children were
the victims. Not two hundred years ago the great majority of our Puritan
ancestors were believing in a God who, for the sin of Adam, was sending
millions of infants, every year, to the regions of darkness and despair.
The God of Cotton Mather or of Edward Payson could hardly have lived in
the same heaven with the God of Dwight Moody or Phillips Brooks.

The changes which have been taking place in our ideas about God have
been mainly in the direction of a purified ethical conception of his
character. We have been learning to believe, more and more, in the
justice, the righteousness, the goodness of God. In the oldest times men
thought him cruel and revengeful; then they began to regard him as
willful and arbitrary--his justice was his determination to have his own
way; his sovereignty was his egoistic purpose to do everything for his
own glory. We have gradually grown away from all that, and are able now
to believe what Abraham believed, that the Judge of all the earth will
do right.

In the presence of a God who, I am assured, is a being of perfect
righteousness, who never blames any one for what he cannot help, who
never expects of any one more than he has the power to render, who means
that I shall know that his treatment of me is in perfect accord with my
own deepest intuition of truth and fairness and honor, I can stand up
and be a man. My faith will not be the cringing submission of a slave to
an absolute despot, but the willing and joyful acceptance by a free man
of righteous authority.

Now it is certain that the belief of the Christian church respecting the
character of God has been steadily changing, in this direction, through
the Christian centuries. Enlightened Christians have been coming to
believe, more and more, in a good God; and by a good God I mean not
merely a good-natured God, but a just God, a true God, a fair God, a
righteous God. The growth of this conviction has been purging theology
of many crude and revolting dogmas.

It is a great deliverance which is wrought out for us when we are set
free, in our religious thinking, from the bondage of unmoral
conceptions, and are encouraged to believe that God is good. It is a
great blessing to have a God to worship whom we can thoroughly respect.
A tremendous strain is put upon the moral nature when men are required,
by traditional influences, to pay adoration and homage to a being whose
conduct, as it is represented to them, is, in some important respects,
conduct which they cannot approve. All the religions, through the
imperfection of human thought, have put that burden on their worshipers.

Christianity has been struggling, through all the centuries, to free
itself from unworthy conceptions of the character of its Deity, and each
succeeding re-statement of its doctrines removes some stain which our
dim vision and halting logic had left upon his name.

What, now, has caused these changes to take place in men's thoughts
about God? What influences have been at work to clarify their ideas of
the unknown Reality?

From three principal sources have come the streams of light by which our
religious conceptions have been purified.

The first of these is the natural world round about us. We are immersed
in Nature; it touches us on every side; it addresses us through all our
senses; it speaks to us every day with a thousand voices. Nature is the
great teacher of the human race. She knows everything; she waits to
impart her love to all who will receive it; she is very patient; her
lessons are not forced upon unwilling pupils, but whosoever will may
come and take of her treasure. Longfellow said of the childhood of
Agassiz, that--

"Nature, the old nurse, took
The child upon her knee,
Saying: 'Here is a story-book
Thy Father has written for thee.

"'Come, wander with me,' she said,
'Into regions yet untrod;
And read what is still unread
In the manuscripts of God.'"

It is not the child Agassiz alone whom Nature thus invited; to the whole
human race, in its childhood, its adolescence, its maturity, she has
always been saying the same thing. She has been seeking, through all the
ages, to disclose to us all the mysteries of this marvelous universe. We
have been slow learners; it took her a great many centuries to get the
simplest truths lodged in the human mind. The cave-dweller, the savage
in his teepee, were able to receive but little of what she had to give.
Yet before their eyes, every day, she spread all her wonders; with
infinite patience she waited for the unfolding of their powers. All the
marvels of steam, of electricity, of the camera, of the telescope, the
microscope, the spectroscope, the Roentgen rays,--all the facts and
forces with which science deals were there, in the hand of Mother
Nature, waiting to be imparted to her child from the day when he first
stood upright and faced the stars.

Slowly he has been led on into a larger understanding of this wonderful
universe. And what has he learned under this tuition? What are some of
the great truths which have gradually impressed themselves upon his

He has been made sure, for one thing, that this is a universe; that all
its forces are coherent; that the same laws are in operation in every
part of it. The principles of mathematics are everywhere applicable;
gravitation controls all the worlds and every particle of matter in
every one of them, and the spectroscope assures us that the same
chemical elements which constitute our world are found in the farthest
star. "On every hand," says Walker, "we are assured that the guiding
principle of Science is that of the uniformity of nature."

It has also come to be understood that nature is all intelligible.
Everything can be explained. This is the fundamental assumption of
science. Many things have not yet been explained, but there is an
explanation for everything; of that every thinker feels perfectly sure.
"Fifty years ago," says Sir John Lubbock, "the Book of Nature was like
some richly illuminated missal, written in an unknown tongue; of the
true meaning little was known to us; indeed we scarcely realized that
there was a meaning to decipher. Now glimpses of the truth are gradually
revealing themselves; we perceive that there is a reason--and in many
cases we know what that reason is--for every difference in form, in
size, and in color, for every bone and feather, almost for every

This is the latest word of the latest philosophy; there is a reason for
everything. As Romanes says, Nature is instinct with reason; "tap her
where you will, reason oozes out at every pore."

If all things are rational and intelligible, then all things must be
the product of a rational Intelligence. That conclusion seems

But we can go further than this. It is not merely true that we can find
in the world about us the signs of an Intelligence like our own, it is
also true that our own intelligence has been developed by the revelation
to us of this Intelligence in the world about us. "If," says Walker,
"human reason is but 'the reflection in us of the universe outside of
us,' then, clearly, the Reason was there, expressed in the universe,
before it possibly could be reflected in us. It is _our relation to the
Universe that makes us rational_." And again, "Apart from the Reason
expressed in the Universe around him, man could never have become the
rational being that he is."[7]

This, then, is the first great reason why our religion has gradually
become more rational. The rationality of the universe constantly
presented to our thought has developed a rationality in our thoughts
about the universe. The mind, like the dyer's hand, is subdued to what
it works in. The response of primitive man to the pressure of Nature
upon him was a response of wonder and awe and fear; his religion was
instructive, emotional; but through the long tuition of the ages, the
old nurse has taught him how to use his reason; and he now finds unity
where he once found strife, and order and law where once confusion and
chaos reigned. His religion has become rational.

But what do we mean when we say that man's great teacher has been
Nature? Nature, as we have seen, is instinct with Reason, and the Reason
which is revealed in Nature is only another name for God. It is the
immanent God, the Eternal Reason, who has been patiently disclosing
himself to us in the world round about us, and thus cleansing our minds
from the crude and superstitious conceptions with which in our ignorance
and fear we had invested him.

The second of the sources from which the influences have come for the
purification of religion is humanity itself.

We are told, in the Book of Genesis, that man is made in the image of
God; and the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God, on which the entire
teaching of Jesus rests, is but a stronger statement of the same truth.
It is true that we find human nature, as yet, for the most part, in
very crude conditions; its divine qualities are not clearly seen. It
does not yet appear what we shall be. But we have learned, in our
evolutionary studies, that no living thing ought to be judged in the
earlier stages of its development; we must wait to see the perfected
type before we can make up our minds about it. The eaglet just hatched
does not give us the right idea of the eagle, nor does the infant in his
swaddling clothes reveal to us the man. So it is with species and races;
if they are undergoing a process of development, we must wait for the
later stages of the process before we judge. The apple is not the crab,
but the Northern Spy; the horse is not the mustang, but the Percheron or
the German roadster. In estimating any living thing, you take into
consideration its possibilities of development; the ideal to which it
may attain must always be in sight.

In the same way when we think of man, we do not take the Patagonian as
the type, but the best specimens of European or American manhood.

If, then, we are taught to believe that man is a child of God, we should
be compelled to believe that it is the most perfectly developed man who
most resembles God. We have some conception of the ideal man. Our
conceptions are not always correct, but they are constantly improved, as
we strive to realize them. And in the ideal man we see reflected the
character of God. We are sure that a perfect humanity would give us the
best revelation we could have of divinity. If we could see a perfect
man, we could learn from him more about God than from any other source.

Most of us believe that a perfect Man appeared in this world nineteen
hundred years ago; and the best that we know about God we have learned
from him. More has been done by his life and teachings to purify
religion of its crudities and superstitions than by all other agencies.
The worst of the crudities and superstitions that still linger in our
own religion are due to the fact that the people who bear his name only
in part accept his teachings and very imperfectly follow his example. If
we could all believe what he has told us and do what he has bidden us,
our religion would soon be cleansed from its worst defilements.

The manifestation of the life of God in Jesus Christ we call The
Incarnation; and it was a manifestation so much more perfect than any
other that the world has seen, that we do well to put the definite
article before the word. Yet it is a mistake to overlook the fact that
God dwells in every good man, and manifests himself through him. And
whenever, in any character, the great qualities of truth and justice and
purity and courage and honor and kindness are exhibited, we see some
reflection of the character of God.

In many a home the father and the mother, by their faithfulness and
kindness and self-sacrifice, make it easy for the children to believe in
a good God; and in every community brave and true and saintly men and
women are revealing to us high qualities which we cannot help
interpreting as divine. We cannot imagine that God is less just or fair
or kind than these men and women are; they lift up our ideals of
goodness, and they compel us to think better thoughts of him in whom all
our ideals are united.

Thus it is that our humanity, as glorified by the Word made flesh, and
as lifted up and sanctified by the lives of good men and women, has been
a great teacher of pure religion. We have learned what to think about
God and how to worship him aright by what he has shown us in the living
epistles of his goodness and grace which he has sent into the world,
and, above all, in that "strong Son of God" whom we call our Master.

The other source from which the influences have come by which religion
has been purified, is that divine Spirit who is always in the world, and
always waiting upon the threshold of every man's thought, and in the
sub-conscious depths of every man's feeling, to enlighten our
understanding and purify our desires. To every man he gives all that he
can receive of light and power. To many his gifts are but meagre,
because their capacities are small and their receptivity is limited; but
there are always in the world open minds and docile tempers, to whom he
imparts his larger gifts. Thus we have the order of prophets and
inspired men, whose words are full of light and leading. In the Bible we
have a record of the messages given by such men to the world. In that
teaching, rightly interpreted, there is great power to correct the
errors and cleanse away the delusions and superstitions which are apt to
gather about our religion. We cannot estimate too highly the work that
has been done by these sacred writings in purifying our conception of

It is possible, however, to treat this book in a manner so hard and
literalistic that it shall become a hindrance rather than a help to the
better knowledge of God. The one fact that it brings vividly before us
is that fact of progress in religious knowledge which we are now
considering. It shows us how men have gone steadily forward, under the
leadership of the divine Spirit, leaving old conceptions behind them,
and rising to larger and larger understanding of divine things. Any
treatment of the Book which fails to recognize this fact--which puts all
parts of the Bible on the same level of spiritual value and
authority--simply ignores the central truth of the Bible and perverts
its whole meaning.

The truth which we need to emphasize in our use of the Bible is the
truth that the same Spirit who gave the men of the olden time their
message is with us, to help us to the right understanding of it, and to
give us the message for our time. Nor is his illumination confined to
any guild or rank of believers; the day foretold by the prophet has
surely come, when the Spirit is poured upon all flesh, and the prophetic
gift may be received by all the pure in heart.

The one glorious fact of our religion--a fact but dimly realized as yet
by the church--is the constant presence in the world of the Spirit of
Truth. If there is anything at all in religion, this divine Spirit is
ready to be the Counselor, Comforter, and Guide of every human soul. And
we cannot doubt that the steadily enlarging conception of the character
of God is due to his gracious ministry.

* * * * *

Such, then, are the sources from which have come that better knowledge
of God which makes the religion of our time to differ from the religion
of past generations. And it will be seen that these three sources are
but one. It is the divine Reason and Love himself who has been revealing
himself to us in the unity and order of nature, in the enlarging life of
humanity, in the inspired insights and convictions of devout believers.
What we are looking upon is that continuing revelation of God to the
world which has been in progress from the beginning, and which will
never cease until the world is full of the knowledge of God as the sea
is full of water.

With this great and growing revelation the church is intrusted. Its
business in the world is to take this truth about God, this new truth,
this larger and fairer truth, which God himself, in the creation and
through the incarnation and by the Indwelling Spirit, has been clearing
up and lifting into the light, and fill modern life full of it. This is
the truth which modern life needs. Religion is a permanent fact, but its
forms change with advancing knowledge. There are forms of truth which
are suited to the needs of modern life. God himself is always at work
preparing the truth for present needs. It is the function of the church
to understand this truth, and make it known in every generation.


Our Religion and Other Religions

Our religion is the Christian religion. This is the form of faith which
the church in our country is organized to promote. Ours is a Christian

This is not by virtue of any legal establishment of Christianity, for
one of the glories of our civilization is that first amendment to our
national constitution, which declares that "Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof." Buddhists, Hindus, Mohammedans, Parsees, Jews, are just as
free to exercise their respective forms of religion in this country as
are the Christians. The government neither forbids nor fosters any kind
of faith.

Ours is a Christian country because nearly all the people of the country
are, by birth and by choice, identified with the Christian faith.

Still it is true that the freedom extended by our constitution to other
forms of faith has been claimed by some of their adherents, and we have
in the United States a goodly number of groups representing
non-Christian creeds. Of these the Jews constitute much the largest
number, there being, perhaps, six or seven hundred Jewish congregations
in all parts of the country. There are also sixty or seventy Chinese
temples, a few groups of Parsees and Mohammedans, a few hundred
companies of Spiritualists, and a few scores of societies of Ethical
Culture and Free Religion. All told there are not, probably, among the
eighty millions of our people, more than a million and a half who are
not either traditionally or nominally Christians.

Our contact with the Orient, on our western frontier, is likely,
however, to bring us into close relations, in the near future, with
other ancient forms of faith. The Christian church in modern life will
be compelled to meet questions raised by the presence of Buddhists and
Confucians and Mohammedans, and to prove its superiority to these
religions. The study of comparative religion has had hitherto purely an
academic interest for most of us; in the present century it is likely to
become for millions a practical question. Many a young man and young
woman will be forced to ask: "Why is the religion of my fathers a better
religion than that of my Hindu associate or my Japanese classmate?" The
answer, if wisely given, may be entirely satisfactory, but the question
must not be treated as absurd or irrelevant. In the face of the great
competitions into which it must enter, our religion must be ready to
give an intelligent account of itself.

One of the first questions to be asked when we take up this inquiry is,
What is the attitude of our religion toward the other religions? Perhaps
it is better to put the question in a concrete form and ask, What is the
attitude of the Christian people toward the people of other religions?

The answer to this question may not be as prompt and confident as we
could wish. Many, people who profess and call themselves Christians are
not so broad-minded or so generous hearted as they ought to be, and they
are inclined to be partisans in religion as well as in art or politics;
they think that all the truth and all the goodness are in the
institutions with which they are allied, and that all the rest are of
the evil one. But such people are not good representatives of
Christianity. They never learned any such judgment from him whom they
call their Master. And we may safely claim that those who have the mind
of Christ are tolerant and generous toward those whose opinions or whose
religious practices differ from their own. They do not forget that their
Master treated with the greatest sympathy men and women whose faiths
greatly differed from his own; that some of those who received his
strongest testimonies to the greatness of their faith, like the Roman
centurion and the Canaanitish woman, were pagans; that one of his most
intimate and gracious conversations on the deep things of the Spirit was
with a Samaritan woman, and that his representative hero of practical
religion was a Samaritan man whose genuine goodness he placed in sharp
contrast with the heathen selfishness of the priest and the Levite of
his own faith. No Christian ever learned to be a bigot by sitting at the
feet of Jesus Christ. And I think we may justly claim that those who
have entered into the spirit of the Christian religion are always
generous in their attitude toward those who worship by other forms of

They cannot forget that all these people whose creeds and rites differ
so greatly from their own are children of our Father, and that they can
be no less dear to him than we are; and it is therefore hardly possible
for them to imagine that he can have left them without some revelation
of saving truth. They approach, therefore, the religious beliefs of
other peoples with open minds, expecting to find in them elements of
truth, and desiring to put themselves into sympathetic and cordial
relations with those whose opinions differ from their own.

As has been said, not all those who are known as Christians have this
tolerant temper, because there are many who are known as Christians who
have but dim notions of what it means to be a Christian. It was once the
prevailing assumption that all religions were divided into two classes,
the true and the false; that ours was the true religion and all the
others were false religions. That the heathen were the enemies of God
was the common belief, and it was a grave heresy to insinuate that any
of them could be saved without renouncing their false religions and
accepting the true religion. This was the basis upon which the work of
foreign missions was long conducted, and there are still many who bear
the Christian name who have not yet reached any other conception.

But the church in modern life is learning to see this whole matter in a
different light. Our best modern missionaries decline to take this
attitude in dealing with men of other religions. They do not regard the
heathen as outside the pale of the divine compassion; they seek for
points of sympathy between their own beliefs and those of the people to
whom they are sent. From no other sources have come stronger testimonies
to the sympathy of religions. We must not, these veteran missionaries
insist, assume that our religion is the only true religion, while all
the others are false religions. We may well assume that all human forms
of faith are more or less imperfect--our own as well as theirs, and
invite them to a candid comparison of the differing systems. If our own
is really superior, if it meets universal human needs more perfectly, we
ought not to fear such a candid comparison. But we must be ready to see
and approve the good that is theirs, if we wish them to accept the good
that is ours.

This is not admitting that there is no difference--that one religion is
as good as another; we should stultify ourselves by making any such
admission. But it is a willingness to recognize truth and goodness
everywhere, and to rejoice in them. And we must show that we are not
afraid to take from the many truth which has been revealed to them more
clearly than to us. If we believe in the universal fatherhood and the
omnipresence of the Holy Spirit, we must expect to find, in every form
of faith, some elements that our Christianity needs. In fact
Christianity, through all its history, has been appropriating truth
which it has found in the systems with which it has come in contact, and
it is one of the glories of Christianity that it has the power to do

A great Christian scholar has just published a book entitled "The Growth
of Christianity," in which he shows how this has been done. He finds
that "just as Jewish morality was ennobled and beautified by the
teaching of Christ and yet made an essential element of that teaching,
so the philosophy of Greece, the mysticism of Asia, and the civic
virtues of Rome were taken up by the Christian religion, which, while
remaining Christian, was modified by their influence. This process
cannot fairly be called degeneration, but growth, such growth and
development as is the privilege of every truly living institution."[8]

It is true, as one critic suggests, that in taking in these foreign
elements Christianity not only made some important gains, but also
suffered some serious losses. Greek philosophy and Asian mysticism and
Roman legalism are responsible for certain perversions of Christianity,
as well as for enlargement of its content. We have great need to be
careful in these assimilations; some kinds of food are rich but not
easily digested. But it is, as I have said, a chief glory of
Christianity that it possesses this assimilative power. It is the
natural fruit of faith in the divine fatherhood. We ought to be able to
believe that God has some revelations to make to us through our brethren
in other lands, as well as to them through us. It is the possession of
this power which fits Christianity to be the universal religion.

It has already given some striking proofs of the possession of this
power. We have had, once, upon this planet, a great Parliament of
Religions, in which the representatives of all the great faiths now
existing in the world were gathered together for comparison of beliefs
and experiences. It was, perhaps, the most important religious gathering
which has ever assembled. The presiding officer, in his opening address,
thus described its import:--

"If this congress shall faithfully execute the duties with which it has
been charged, it will become a joy of the whole earth and stand in human
history like a new Mount Zion crowned with glory and making the actual
beginning of a new epoch of brotherhood and peace.

"In this congress the word 'religion' means the love and worship of God
and the love and service of man. We believe the Scripture 'Of a truth
God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that feareth God
and worketh righteousness is accepted of him.' We come together in
mutual confidence and respect, without the least surrender or compromise
of anything which we respectively believe to be truth or duty, with the
hope that mutual acquaintance and a free and sincere interchange of
views on the great questions of eternal life and human conduct will be
mutually beneficial.

"The religious faiths of the world have most seriously misunderstood
and misjudged each other, from the use of words in meanings radically
different from those which they were intended to bear, and from a
disregard of the distinctions between appearances and facts, between
signs and symbols and the things signified and represented. Such errors
it is hoped that this congress will do much to correct and to render
hereafter impossible."

Such was the purpose of this parliament, such the spirit which prompted
the calling of it, and found utterance in its conferences. It was surely
a notable and beautiful thing for, the adherents of these dissimilar
faiths, whose ordinary attitude toward one another has always been
suspicious and oppugnant, to come together in this friendly way, seeking
a better understanding, and emphasizing the things that make for unity.
And whose was this parliament? Which religion was it that conceived of
it, and made provision for it, and set in motion the influences that
drew these hostile bands into harmony? It was the Christian religion
which gave us this great endeavor after unity. And it is highly
improbable that such a movement would have originated in any other than
a Christian country, or among the followers of any other Leader than the
Man of Nazareth. It was the natural thing for the disciples of Jesus to
do; and while many men of the other faiths yielded to this gracious
influence, and were thus brought under the power of the bond that unites
our common humanity, it is not likely that any of them would have taken
the initiative in such an undertaking.

We may hope that this is not the last parliament of religions; that in
the days before us such manifestations of the unity of the race will not
be uncommon. And we are sure that the leaders of all such endeavors will
be found among the followers of the Prince of Peace.

Here, then, we find one clear answer to the question with which we
started. The Christian confessor who is confronted with the question
"What reason have you for thinking that the religion of your fathers is
better than any other form of faith?" may answer, first, "It is better
because it cares more for the unity of the race than any other religion
cares; because it believes more strongly in the essential brotherhood of
all worshipers; because it teaches a larger charity for men of
differing beliefs, and more perfectly realizes the sympathy of
religions. It is far from being all that it ought to be, on this side of
its development; many of its adherents are still full of bigotry and
intolerance and Pharisaic conceit; but these are contrary to its
plainest teachings, and all its progress is in the direction of larger
charity for men of all religions. Already, in spite of its failures, it
has shown far more of this temper than any other religion has exhibited;
and when it gets rid of its own sects and schisms, and comes closer to
the heart of its own Master, it will have a power of drawing the peoples
together which no other religion has ever thought of exercising."

I have spoken of the fact that Christianity claims to be a universal
religion. That was the expectation with which its first messengers were
sent forth. They were bidden to go into all the world and preach the
gospel to every creature. There has never been any other thought among
the loyal followers of Jesus than that the day is coming when every knee
shall bow to him and every tongue confess him.

This expectation of universality is not shared by all the religions of
the earth. Many of them are purely ethnic faiths; they grow out of the
lives of the peoples who adhere to them; it does not seem to be supposed
that any other peoples would care for them or know what to do with them.
The old Romans had a saying, "_Cujus regio, ejus religio_"--which means,
Every country has its own religion. The earlier Hebrews had the same
idea; they thought that every people had a god of its own. Jehovah was
their God; Baal was the god of the Phoenicians, and Chemosh was the god
of Moab. They believed that Jehovah was a stronger God than any of these
other deities, but they did not seem to doubt their existence or their
potency. Even the prophet Micah says: "For all the peoples will walk
every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of
Jehovah our God for ever and ever."[9] The later prophets gained the
larger conception of universality; they believed that there was but one
supreme God, and therefore but one religion, to the acceptance of which
all mankind would at last be brought. The narrower conception of
religion as a national or racial interest has, however, prevailed and
still prevails among many peoples. The Hindu religion, which numbers
many millions of votaries, has no expectation of becoming a world
religion. Indeed, it could not well entertain any such expectation; the
system of caste, on which it rests, makes it necessarily exclusive. It
has no missionary impulse; its adherents are content with a good which
they do not seek to share with other peoples. The same thing is true of
many of the minor faiths.

Now it is manifest that religions which do not expect to be universal
are not likely to exceed their own expectations. "According to your
faith be it unto you" is as true of systems as of men. And none of us is
likely to be strongly drawn to a faith which has really no invitation
for us, no matter how stoutly it may maintain its own superiority. No
religion which has only a tribal or racial significance can make any
effective appeal to our credence. The note of universality must be
struck by any religion which claims our suffrages.

There are certain great living religions which make this claim of
universality. Judaism and Parseeism have both entertained this
expectation, but the fewness of their adherents at the present time
indicates that the expectation is but feebly held. The three living
faiths which aspire to universal dominion are Buddhism, Mohammedanism,
and Christianity.[10] Each of these hopes to possess the earth. Each of
these is strong enough to enforce its claim with some measure of

Recent estimates give to Buddhism 148,000,000 of followers, to
Mohammedanism 177,000,000, and to Christianity 477,000,000.
Mohammedanism has been rapidly extending its sway in Africa during
recent years; Buddhism is not, probably, making great gains at the
present time.

If any form of religion is to become universal in the earth it would
appear that it must be one of these three. If any of us wishes to
exchange the religion of his fathers for another faith, his choice will
be apt to lie between Buddhism and Mohammedanism. What claims to our
credence and allegiance could either of them set up?

It would not, for most of us, be an easy thing to turn from the faith of
our fathers to any other form of faith. The ideas and usages to which
we have been accustomed all our lives are not readily exchanged for
those which are wholly unfamiliar. Rites and ceremonies and customs of
other religions, which may be intrinsically as reasonable and reverent
as our own, strike upon our minds unpleasantly because they are
unwonted. It would, therefore, be somewhat difficult for us to put
ourselves into a mental attitude before either of these great religions,
in which we should be able to do full justice to its claims upon our

Yet if we could gain the breadth of view to which the disciples of
Christ ought to attain, we should be compelled to admit that each of
these great religions has rendered some important service to mankind.

What those services have been can only be hinted at in this chapter. Of
Islamism, Bishop Boyd Carpenter testifies that it "has been, and still
is, a great power in the world. There is much in it that is calculated
to purify and elevate mankind at a certain stage of history. It has the
power of redeeming the slaves of a degraded polytheism from their low
groveling conception of God to conceptions which are higher; it has set
an example of sobriety to the world and has shielded its followers from
the drink plague which destroys the strength of nations. And, in so far
as it has done this, it has performed a work which entitles it to the
attention of man and no doubt has been a factor in God's education of
the world."[11]

Of Buddhism even more could be said. In the words of Mr. Brace:--

"Sometime in the sixth century before Christ there appeared in Northern
India one of those great personalities who in a measure draw their
inspiration directly from above.... When he says, 'As a mother at the
risk of her life watcheth over the life of her child, her only child, so
also let every one cultivate a boundless good-will towards all beings,
... above and below and across, unobstructed, without hatred, without
enmity, standing, walking, sitting, or lying, as long as he be awake let
him devote himself to this state of mind; this way of living, they say,
is the best in this world'--when these words come to our ears we hear
something of a like voice to that which said, 'Come unto me, all ye that
are weary and heavy-laden.' From a thousand legends and narratives we
may gather that to Gotama the Enlightened (the Buddha) the barriers of
human selfishness fell away. To him the miseries of the poor, the slave,
the outcast, were his own; the tears which men had shed from the
beginning, 'enough to fill oceans,' were as if falling from his eyes.
The great pang of sorrow, piercing the heart of the race, inconsolable,
unspeakable, struck to his own heart. For him the sin of the world, the
unsatisfied desire, the fierce passion and hatred and lust, poisoned
life, and he cared for nothing except for what would change the heart
and remove this fearful mass of evil."[12]

The character of Gotama as it emerges from the reek of tradition is one
of the noblest in history, and while the religion of which he was the
leader has been defiled by all manner of corruptions and superstitions,
it has borne much good fruit in the life of many peoples.

It would be easy to point out the radical defects in both these
religions; let me rather call attention to some of the distinguishing
peculiarities of our own faith.

1. The God whom Jesus has taught us to believe in, is a far nobler
object of affection and trust than is ever presented to the thought of
the followers of Mohammed or of Gotama. He is our Heavenly Father,
infinite in his purity, his truth, his kindness, his compassion, his
care for all his children.

Now it is true that the central and fundamental difference in religions
is that which concerns the character of the deity. The best religion is
that which worships the best god. And when we compare the Christian
conception of God with the Buddhist conception or the Mohammedan
conception, we cannot fail to see which is the highest and the purest.

A brilliant Japanese scholar, discussing this subject of the relative
values of religions, was asked if, in any respect, the Christian
religion was better than the Oriental religions, and he promptly
answered: "Yes; the Christian conception of God as the Heavenly Father
is higher and better than that of any Oriental religion." If that is
true it settles the whole question.

It is, perhaps, inaccurate to speak of Buddhism as having any conception
of God. "The very idea of a god as creating or in any way ruling the
world," says one authority, "is utterly absent in the Buddhist system.
God is not so much as denied, he is simply not known." Buddha taught
men to be compassionate to one another, but he did not teach them to
look above themselves for any divine compassion. It is true that they
now venerate him, and even pray to him; for the human soul will
pray,--its instinct of dependence, its craving for fellowship with
something higher than itself will prevail over all theories; but this
prayer must be somewhat incoherent, for the worshiper believes that
Buddha has no longer any conscious or personal existence. And there is
certainly no conception in his mind of any such fatherly relation with
any Power above himself, who loves him and cares for him and knows how
to help him, as that which Jesus has revealed to us.

The Mohammedan Deity is indeed a person, but he is a relentless,
omnipotent Will. The worst phases of the old Calvinism--those which have
disappeared from Christian thought--are the central ideas of the
Mohammedan creed. God is represented in the Koran as fitful and
revengeful, as arbitrary and despotic; he is a very different being from
the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2. The religion of Jesus emphasizes, as no other religion has done,
"the redemptive principle in its idea of God." It does not hide the fact
of moral evil as the source of all our woes, but it shows an eternal
purpose in the heart of God to save man from sin, even at the cost of
suffering to himself. This is the meaning of redemption; it is the
salvation of men through a divine self-sacrifice. No such revelation of
the love of God as this has ever been made to the world, except through
the life and teachings and death of Jesus Christ. No wonder that when it
is simply and clearly presented to men it wins their hearts. A Chinese
woman, listening to a recital of this redemptive work of God, turned
suddenly to her neighbor and said, "Didn't I tell you that there ought
to be a God like that?"

We shall look in vain through the scriptures of the other religions for
any such conception of the relation of God to men. Men must save
themselves by their own endeavors; they must obey or they will suffer;
perchance by their own suffering they may be purified: but that God
should stoop to earth and stand by the side of sinning and suffering
man, and save him by suffering with him, is a truth to which none of
them has risen.

3. Christianity, above all other faiths, is the religion of hope. It
not only kindles in our hearts the hope of overcoming the sin which is
our worst enemy, but it conquers in our hearts the fear of death and
opens up to us the prospect of unending and glorious future life, in the
society of those most dear to us.

Mohammedanism also permits us to hope for future blessedness, albeit its
representations of the life to come are not always such as to purify and
elevate our thoughts. Buddhism, on the contrary, though it tells us that
we may be reborn many times, assures us that each reappearance in this
world will be attended with suffering and struggle; from which, if we
continue to walk in the true path, striving more and more to conquer our
desires, we may at length hope to be delivered; but the blessedness
which comes at the end of all this struggle is simply forgetfulness: we
shall lose our identity and be remerged in that fount of Being from
which at first we came. Existence is the primal evil: to get rid of
ourselves is what we are to strive for; salvation is our disappearance
out of life, our absorption in the ocean of unconsciousness. This is the
best that Buddhism has to offer us. Not many of us, I dare say, will
wish to exchange for this the Christian hope.

There are many other characteristics of the Christian faith on which it
would be interesting to reflect, but these three great elements are
sufficient to enable us to form our judgment as to its comparative
value. No religion which in these particulars is inferior can ever draw
the world away from the leadership of Jesus Christ. And it ought to be
clear to all who can comprehend the needs of human nature that while
these other faiths, in view of the great services they have rendered to
mankind, are not to be despised; and while it is probable that the
world, until the end of it, will be indebted to them for contributions
which they have made to our knowledge of the highest things; yet there
is no good reason why any one who has been walking in the light that
shines from the life and teachings of Jesus Christ should wish to turn
from his way into the ways of Mohammed or Gotama.

It is not by any happy accident that Christianity is growing far more
rapidly than any other form of faith, and now vastly outnumbers every
other; it is not a strange thing that the lands in which it prevails
are far more prosperous and far more powerful than the lands in which
other religions prevail. It is winning the world. It is winning the
world because its interpretation of life is a truer interpretation than
any other religion has offered; because it meets and supplies the
deepest wants of men more perfectly than any other religion meets and
supplies them.

The great evolutionary law is at work here, as everywhere. There is a
struggle for existence among religions, as among all other forms of
life. The law of variation has had full play in all this realm; human
nature has produced a great variety of religious ideas and forms, and
natural selection is doing its work upon them. The fittest will survive.
And the fittest religion will be the religion that ministers most
perfectly to human needs; that makes the best and strongest men and
women; that rears up the most fruitful and the most enduring

Everything visible within the horizon of our thought to-day indicates
that the religion which will survive--the permanent religion, the
universal religion--will be the Christian religion.

It will gather into itself the best elements out of every other form of
faith, but the constructive ideas will be those which have found most
perfect expression in the teachings of Jesus Christ.


The Social Side of Religion

We have found in our previous studies that religion is a central and
permanent element in human nature, and that Christianity bids fair to be
the permanent form of religion.

But the readers of these pages are constantly meeting with those who
would admit both these statements, yet who are disposed to deny or
ignore the value of the church in modern society. They believe in
religion, they say; they even believe in the principles of Christianity;
they may go so far as to say that they believe in Christ; but they do
not believe in the church. What they seem to object to is organized
religion. They appear to think that it ought to be diffused, somehow,
like an atmosphere, through the community. We hear Christians talk,
sometimes, about "the invisible church;" that is the only kind of church
which these objectors are disposed to tolerate. _Institutional_ religion
is the special object of their distrust.

Some of the more radical among them oppose religious organizations, not
because these organizations are religious, but because they have an
antipathy for all forms of social organization. It does not take an
open-eyed onlooker long to discover that social organizations of all
kinds are infested with many evils. Social machinery is never perfect in
its construction or operation. It is always getting out of gear; there
is endless friction and clatter and confusion; it takes a great deal of
trouble to keep it moving, and its product is often of poor quality.
When men get together and try to cooeperate for any purpose, by orderly
methods, they are always sure, because of the imperfection of human
nature, to do a certain amount of mischief. Often their organization
tends to tyranny; freedom is unduly restricted; selfish men get
possession of the power accumulated in the organization, and use it for
their own aggrandizement; it becomes, to a greater or less extent, an
instrument of oppression. Thus government, which is normally the
organization of political society for the protection of liberty and the
promotion of the general welfare, sometimes becomes, as in Russia, a
grinding despotism despoiling the many for the enrichment of the few.
Thus, in our American politics, we have the machine, which is simply the
perversion of party organization, and which in many instances has
become, under the manipulation of greedy and conscienceless men, an evil
of vast proportions.

Looking upon these abuses with which political organizations of all
kinds are always encumbered, some men propose to abolish all forms of
political organization. This is anarchism, of which there are two
varieties,--the anarchism of violence, and the anarchism of
non-resistance. Czolgosz represents one type and Tolstoy the other. For
the anarchism of violence we can have only detestation and horror; to
the anarchism which expects to abolish laws by ignoring them and
suffering the consequences, we must extend a respectful toleration.
Nevertheless the anarchism of Tolstoy offers us a programme which is
hardly thinkable. For we are made to live and work together; and if we
work together effectively we must have rules and working agreements,
methods of cooeperation, and these, whatever name we may give them, will
have the force of constitutions and laws. The great cooeperations, on
which the welfare of society depends, involve social organization. Even
if the form which this takes should be largely economic, it would have
political force and significance. Man is a political animal; it is his
nature to live politically; and, as Horace says, you may drive out
nature with a pitchfork, but she is sure to come back. And the same
weaknesses of human nature which infested the old forms of organization
would be found in the new ones, unless human nature itself were

Those who would destroy political society on account of its abuses are,
therefore, guilty of the same foolishness as that of the man who burned
his house to get rid of the rats. Doubtless the rats all escaped and
were ready to enter, with reinforcements, into the new house as soon as
it was builded.

The same reasoning applies to ecclesiastical anarchism. Those who,
because of the defects of church organizations, would abolish the
churches, are equally unpractical. For it is not only true, as we saw in
our first chapter, that religion is a primal fact of human nature, it is
equally true that religion everywhere has a social manifestation. The
same impulse which moves men to worship, draws them together in their

Any deep or strong emotion makes human beings congregate. Just as a
flock of sheep huddle together when they are frightened, so men, when
deeply moved for any cause, seek one another. As the impulse of religion
is one of those by which men are most deeply moved, it always brings
them together.

So long as religion keeps the form of fear it produces this result; when
fear is succeeded by more grateful emotions, and men begin to have some
sense of the goodness of the Power they have been blindly worshiping,
then their gladness and gratitude bring them together. Religion,
therefore, in all lands and ages, has been a social interest; indeed, it
has been the strongest of the bonds uniting human beings. To demand a
religion which should have no social expression is to fly in the face of
nature, and forbid causes to bring forth their normal effects. Wherever
there is religion men will be associated, and their worship and their
work will be carried on under forms of social organization. Anarchism is
no more thinkable or workable in religion than in politics.

If this is true of religion in general, it is eminently true of the
Christian religion. The characteristic note of Christianity is its
emphasis on the social relations. In this it simply exhibits what we may
call its scientific temper, its tendency to keep close to the facts of
life, to give the right interpretation to nature and to human nature.

A modern sociologist[13] tells us that "the sole point of view, aim and
goal of Jesus, in all his teaching and by implication of all his acts,
was social. The divine Father whom he proclaimed was social--a Being
whose one attribute was love." When we say that "God is love," this is
what we mean. He delights in Companionship, and finds his happiness in
the relations which unite him with his creatures. Since his own supreme
good is in these reciprocal affections and services, we cannot imagine
that he could expect us to find our good in any different way. If we
share our Father's nature, we must seek our happiness where he finds
his. The blessedness of life must therefore be in our social relations.
Such is the teaching of Jesus. Such is the essence of Christianity.

While, therefore, every religion by its very nature tends to bring men
together, Christianity lifts the social impulse into the light and
sanctifies and transfigures it, making it not merely a concomitant of
religion but the heart of religion. The effect of this revelation was
seen in all the ministry of Jesus. Whereever he went the people flocked
together. "Great multitudes followed him." Into the wildernesses, up to
the mountain tops, across the stormy lake, they made their way; it was a
day of great congregations. It was because they wanted to be with him,
of course; but when they came to him they came together, and one of the
things he sought for them was that they should like to be together. That
was surely a lesson that they learned of him; for as soon as he had gone
they began to gravitate together. Every day they met, sometimes in the
temple courts, sometimes in their own homes, for praise and prayer;
every evening they partook together, in little groups, of a simple meal,
in memory of him. Their religion, from the start, manifested a marked
social tendency. Indeed, we might give it a stronger word, and say that,
in the beginning, it was socialistic; it seemed to threaten a complete
reconstruction of the industrial order. For "all that believed were
together, and had all things common; and they sold their possessions
and goods, and parted them to all, as every man had need."[14]

Just how far this communistic experiment was carried it is difficult to
say, but it is evident that the disciples felt that their religion ought
to permeate and control their entire social life. And there has never
since been a day when the social side of religion has not been
recognized and provided for. The very impulse which is kindled in their
hearts when they are brought into association with Christ, brings men
together. Communion, fellowship, these are the first words they learn.
It has been so from the beginning. One of the great Christians of the
apostolic age admonished his converts against "forsaking the assembling
of themselves together," and that admonition has always been heeded. No
other religion has brought people together so constantly and in so many
ways as Christianity has done. Christian people are always getting
together, to pray together, to sing together, to partake together of the
sacraments, to listen together to the teaching of the pulpit, to study
the Bible together, to take counsel together about their work, to unite
their efforts, in manifold cooeperations, for the upbuilding of the
Kingdom. They have even come to believe--and they are profoundly right
about it--that it is a good thing for people to come together just for
the sake of being together, even when no distinctly religious business
assembles them. To establish and promote pleasant and amicable social
relations between human beings is a Christian thing to do. It is a sign
of the progress of the Kingdom, and a preparation for it, when men and
women enjoy meeting one another for no other reason than that they like
to be together. It is a condition of the manifestation of the love which
is the fulfilling of all law. The stranger, as many languages testify,
is apt to be the enemy. The chief reason why he is dreaded and hated is
that he is not known. Acquaintance allays suspicion and promotes
sympathy and kindness.

Not the least of the services which Christianity has rendered to the
world may be seen in what it has accomplished in bringing human beings
together socially. Setting aside its purely religious function, it has
done, in Europe and America, more than all other agencies put together
to promote acquaintances and neighborly relations among men. It has
done, as we shall see by and by, far less than it ought to have done in
this direction; its failures in this department of its work have been
manifold and grievous; but after all this is admitted, it must still be
affirmed that it has done most of what has been done to socialize
mankind, and no other institution or agency is entitled to throw stones
at it because of its deficiencies.

When, therefore, those who read these chapters hear the criticisms and
cavils to which I referred at the beginning, they will know how to reply
to them.

When they hear an argument which assumes that the church is worse than
useless because all social institutions are worse than useless, they may
answer that the reasoning is unsound, because it repudiates the deepest
facts of human nature; that social institutions, the church among them,
are natural growths as truly as the cornfields and the forests.

When they hear any one maintaining that he believes in the principles of
Christianity but not in the social organizations which embody these
principles, they may well reply that the principles of Christianity
naturally and inevitably embody themselves in forms of social
organization; that you could no more prevent it than you could prevent
light from breaking into color or spring from coming in May; that, as a
matter of history, the growth of Christianity has been signalized by a
marvelous development of the social sentiments and habitudes which must
find expression in some kind of social cooeperation; and that, as a
matter of fact, after all necessary deductions have been made, the
church has been a powerful agency in developing that temper of
likemindedness which makes civilized society possible.

There is still another cavil to which it may be needful to refer. It is
based on the notion that religion, after all, is a purely individual
affair; that it concerns only the relations between the soul and its
God; that therefore public worship is not only needless but unseemly.
Prayer is sometimes described as "the flight of one alone to the only
One;" and it is sometimes contended that any other than private prayer
is a violation of all the higher sanctities. If this were true, of
course the church would be an anomaly or an imposition. And while there
are not many who would urge this argument unfalteringly, some such
notion as this may be found lying at the bottom of a good many minds.

The words of Jesus, in the sixth chapter of Matthew, are sometimes
quoted in support of this criticism upon public worship: "And when ye
pray, ye shall not be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray
in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be
seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou,
when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy
door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth
in secret shall recompense thee."[15]

But we must learn to interpret the words of Jesus as meeting the
occasion on which they were spoken; and before we base any
generalizations or rules of conduct upon them, we must bring together
all that he said and did which bears upon the case in hand, and try to
arrive at some meaning which shall include and explain it all. When we
treat the utterances and acts of Jesus after this manner, we shall find
that no such deduction as that which we are considering can be drawn
from them.

We discover, in the first place, that he himself did not always pray in
secret; for several of his prayers made in public places are reported
for us. Moreover, he told his disciples that when even two or three of
them were gathered together in his name, he would be in the midst of
them. The implication is that they would be in the habit of gathering
together in his name, and that there would generally be many more than
two or three of them.

The only form of prayer which he has left us is manifestly intended
primarily, not for secret worship, but for social worship. The pronouns
of the "Lord's Prayer" are all in the plural number: "_Our_ father who
art in heaven;" "Give _us_ this day our daily bread." For solitary
prayer these phrases are not suitable.

When he went away from his disciples he left them a great promise of the
manifestation to them of that Spirit which had been given without
measure to him; and he bade them tarry in Jerusalem until that promise
should be fulfilled. Accordingly they assembled, about one hundred and
twenty of them, in an upper room in Jerusalem, and "continued
steadfastly" in prayer together for many days. The response to this
prayer was that outpouring of the Spirit by which the apostolic church
was inspired, and equipped for its work. Saint Peter told the disciples
that this was the gift of the ascended Christ,--the fulfillment of his
promise to them. If this was true, it can hardly be conceived that he
disapproved of the common prayer in answer to which this gift had come.

Nor can any reasonable interpreter of his words and deeds imagine that
he intended his admonition in the sixth chapter of Matthew to be taken
as a prohibition of public worship or of social prayer. Those words were
simply a reproof of ostentation in worship. The Pharisees, whose conduct
he is castigating, "loved to pray standing in the synagogues and in the
corners of the streets, that they might be seen of men." It was a
private and personal prayer, offered in a public place, to advertise the
devotion of the worshiper. With our private and personal prayers the
public has no concern; it is a manifest indelicacy to thrust them before
the public; the place for them is the secret chamber. Individual sins
and sorrows and needs we all have, and when we talk with our Father
about them we ought to be alone with him; but we have also common sins
and sorrows and needs, and it is well for us to be together when we talk
with him about them. It is therefore a gross perversion of these words
of Jesus to quote them in condemnation of acts of public worship. His
entire life and the example of all those who were nearest to him, as
well as the testimony of the best Christians in all the ages, unite to
render such a notion incredible.

If I have succeeded in answering the cavils which seek to discredit the
church as a social organization, and especially as an agency for the
maintenance of social worship, let me go on to suggest some positive
reasons for the existence of such an agency.

Such an opportunity as the church offers for social worship is essential
to the maintenance of religion. Religious feeling the expression of
which was confined to the relations between the individual and his God,
would become self-centred, egoistic, and morbid. If there were no
praying but secret praying, if the social element were eliminated from
prayer and praise, faith would take on ascetic forms, devotion would
become rancid, sympathy would be smothered, and the character of the
worshiper would be hardened and belittled. There is a place and a time,
as we have seen, for private devotion; probably many of us make far less
use of it than would be good for us; but any attempt to shut our
religion into the closet would be suicidal. It would mould there. To
keep it fresh and wholesome it must be taken out into the light and air;
the winds of heaven must blow through it; our desires must mingle with
the desires of others; our voices must join with their voices; we must
learn to think of the needs, the struggles, the sorrows, the hopes that
are common to us all, to put ourselves in other people's places when we
pray, to feel that our religion is a bond that binds us to our kind.

There is a kind of prayer which we could only use in the
closet,--intimate, personal, dealing with matters of which no one else
has any right to know. But there is another kind of prayer for which
there is no other place than the great congregation; a prayer in which
many pleading hearts unite; in which the sympathies and hopes and
aspirations of a thousand worshipers are blended. Such a prayer, if some
one can give it voice, is something far higher and diviner than ever
ascended from any secret shrine.

It is true that the prayer of the great assembly does not always find a
fitting voice. It is sometimes arid and formal; it is sometimes palpably
insincere and perfunctory, alas for our human disabilities and
infirmities! The power of the leader to forget himself, to gather up
into his heart the common needs of those who are listening, and pour
them out before God, is sometimes wanting. Not seldom we may find
ourselves wishing for those forms of prayer, sanctified by centuries of
use, in which the Christian church, in all the lands of earth, has made
known its requests to God. These are always dignified and reverent;
every truly devout heart may find utterance for some of its deepest
needs in the petitions of the Book of Common Prayer. But most of us have
heard prayers in the sanctuary which lifted and kindled us as no written
prayers could ever do. If the leader of the devotions could be "in the
Spirit on the Lord's day;" if he could forget himself; if the simplicity
which is in Christ could take possession of his thought, if he could
look over the company round about him before he closed his eyes, and
with a swift glance could glean out of that field of human experience
some inkling of the trials, the perplexities, the griefs, the struggles,
the tragedies of the lives there before him, and with a great, fervent,
energizing[16] prayer could carry them all up to God, there would be
something in that which would convince all who were listening that the
highest form of prayer is not secret prayer, but social prayer. Nor is
it an uncommon thing to hear, even in humble pulpits, prayer which
effectually meets this great demand.

It goes without saying that, for the highest forms of praise, we must
have the conspiring voices of the great congregation. We cannot let
loose the hallelujahs in the closet; that would be almost as unseemly as
to pray on the street corner. If the Bible is any guide as to the forms
which our worship should take, praise must constitute a large part of
it. And praise is mainly a social act.

Even the preaching gathers much of its impressiveness from the
congregation. The message which stirs the hearts of five hundred
worshipers would make much less impression upon any one of them if he
heard it alone. It could not be given to him alone, as it is given to
the five hundred; that is a psychological impossibility. There is
something in it when the five hundred hear it that is not in it when the
single auditor hears it, and that something is, far and away, the best
thing that it contains.

All these considerations show that public worship is essential to the
vigorous maintenance of true religion. The elements which it supplies to
religion are vital elements. Let no man imagine that by reading the
Bible and good books at home, and by worshiping in his closet, or, as
some are fond of saying, "in God's first temples," the life of religion
can be successfully maintained. It never has been maintained in that
way, and it never will be. When men forsake the assembling of themselves
together for worship, there is no more reading the Bible and good books
at home, and no more praying in the closet, much less in the woods.
Single individuals might, if the religious atmosphere of the community
were kept vital round about them, continue to enjoy religion. Invalids
are often forced to deprive themselves of social worship; but if they
are there in spirit, something of the benefit finds them. But a
community which deliberately abandoned social worship would be a
community in which no private worship would long be maintained.

If, then, we agree that religion is an essential element in the life of
mankind, we must see that it is necessary that some institution should
exist which shall make provision for social and public worship. The
Christian church undertakes primarily to fulfill this function. It has
other large and important relations to society, of which we shall speak
further on. But this is its first concern. I hope that it has been made
evident in this discussion that it is a very important function. I hope
that those who read these pages may be able to see that if we are to
have any religion in our land, the kind of work which the church
undertakes to do cannot be neglected. That the church is not doing this
work as well as it ought to be done is true enough; we shall have all
that before us presently; but the vital necessity of the work is not
therefore disproved. The work would be better done if those who now hold
aloof, because they see its defects, would put their lives into the
business of mending them.

There are very few men and women, after all, in our modern society, who
do not say, without hesitation, that we must have churches; that it
would not do to let them die; that they are essential to the social
welfare; that, imperfect as they are, they supply a need which every one
can recognize. They have no hesitation, either, in admitting that if
there are to be churches, somebody must belong to them, and share the
responsibility for their maintenance. But when the question is asked,
"If somebody must, why must not you?" a good many of them are not able
to give a very clear answer. Very often the excuse that is set up is
some form of theological dissent. But that is not, in many cases, a
serious barrier. It might shut some men out of some churches; but there
are great varieties of creeds, and the conditions of membership in some
churches are so simple that no really earnest man is likely to feel
himself excluded. If it is essential that the work of the church be
done, and if the reader of these pages has not convinced himself that he
is exempt from the common human obligations, then he can find, if he is
in earnest, some church with which he can conscientiously ally himself,
and in whose work he can bear a part.


The Business of the Church

We have seen that religion is a social fact; that religious feeling
creates social organizations, and is preserved and promoted by them. God
is love, and love is social attraction; the children of God, who are
made in his image, must find in their hearts a tendency to get together
and worship and work together.

We find here a reciprocating action. An apple seed produces a tree which
in its turn produces apples with seeds. So the religious impulse
organizes the church, and the church cultivates and propagates religious
impulses. The point to be emphasized is that religion, and especially
the Christian religion, is inseparable from social forms; that its
natural result is to bring human beings together in cooeperative groups.

It is the business of life to organize matter; there is no life without
organization; the inorganic is the lifeless. These are facts which
should be borne in mind by those who approve of the religious life but
object to religious organizations. If religion is life, it will create
organic forms.

In our last chapter we showed how worship, in its highest expression, is
essentially social, and how impossible it would be to maintain it
without the aid of institutions having the same essential purpose as the
Christian church. Let us turn our thought now to the other great
function of the church, the regeneration of human society.

Religion cannot be kept alive without alliance with the social forces;
the social forces cannot be kept in healthful operation without the aid
of religion. Neither blade of a pair of shears will cut without the
other. You cannot raise corn without seed, and you can only get seed
from corn.

Religion is not an ultimate fact. When men are religious just for the
sake of being religious, their religion is good for nothing. Religion is
for character. Its end is gained when it has made us good men and women.
Religion is for service. It finds its justification in the work that it
can do in making a better world of this. Jesus gave us the truth about
it when he said, "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the
Sabbath." And he carried the truth forward to a larger application when
he said, "I came not to judge the world, but to save the world."

"_To save the world._" That was the errand of the Christ; that is the
business of his church. It is not merely to save a certain number of
people out of the world, and to get them safely away to another world;
it is to save the world.

There is no danger of giving to this phrase too wide an application. We
are entitled to the expectation that this salvation is to have a large
scope; that it is to include the earth and all its tribes of life. When
we speak of making a better world of this, we ought to mean the physical
world as well as the social world and the moral world. It is a true
insight of faith which makes the poet say:--

"The world we live in wholly is redeemed;
Not man alone, but all that man holds dear:
His orchards and his maize: forget me not
And heartsease in his garden, and the wild
Aerial blossoms of the untamed wood,
That make its savagery so homelike; all
Have felt Christ's sweet love watering their roots:
His sacrifice has won both earth and heaven.
Nature in all its fullness is the Lord's.
There are no Gentile oaks, no Pagan pines;
The grass beneath oar feet is Christian grass;
The wayside weed is sacred unto him.
Have we not groaned together, herbs and men,
Struggling through stifling earth-weights unto light,
Earnestly longing to be clothed upon
With one high possibility of bloom?
And He, He is the Light, He is the Sun
That draws us out of darkness, and transmits
The noisome earth-damp into Heaven's own breath,
And shapes our matted roots, we know not how,
Into fresh leaves, and strong, fruit-bearing stems;
Yea, makes us stand, on some consummate day,
Abloom in white transfiguration robes."

This vital sympathy between man and his environment is never lost sight
of by the great prophets. The redemption of man must mean, as they
clearly see, the redemption of the world in which man lives. When the
drunkard is reformed, the house which he inhabits puts on a new face and
there are flowers instead of weeds in his garden. Isaiah knew that when
his people were redeemed from their captivity, the wilderness and the
parched land would be glad and the desert would rejoice and blossom as
the rose.

That wonderful passage in the eighth chapter of the Romans shows how
strongly Paul had grasped the old prophetic idea; he beholds the whole
creation humiliated and disfigured by its share in man's degeneration,
and waiting to be delivered with man from the bondage of corruption
into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. That expectation
is yet to be realized. It is an essential part of the Christian
expectation. It is part of what redemption means.

True, it is that by the selfishness and thoughtlessness of man large
portions of the earth's surface have been despoiled; mountains have been
denuded of their forests; fertile lands have been worn out, and fruitful
fields have become wildernesses. But we are beginning to reverse this
tendency, and now many a wilderness is being reclaimed, arid plains are
green with corn, and the forests are creeping back upon the hillsides.
As men become socialized, as they learn to cooeperate for the common
good, as some sense of their social responsibility gets possession of
their minds, we shall see this process extending; the waste of the
common resources of the earth will cease; deserts will be visited by the
life-giving water; swamps and jungles will be subdued; the earth, in
many regions now uninhabited and desolate, will be made to bring forth
and bud that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater.

All this is the natural result of the quickening in human hearts of the
social sentiments, by which they are drawn into closer cooeperation for
the common good; and this quickening of the social sentiments is the
work that Christ came to do, and the work that his church will be doing,
with all her might, as soon as she fully understands what is her
business in the world.

The redemption of the physical order will be the result of the
socialization of mankind. It is an integral part of the work that Christ
came into the world to do. It is part of what he meant when he said that
he came to save the world. When we realize this, we get some idea of the
scope of the redemption which he proclaims. It is not a superficial or a
sentimental thing that he proposes; it takes hold of life with the most
comprehensive grasp; it proposes to redeem not only man but his

It is not, however, the redemption of the physical order to which Christ
primarily addresses himself. He begins in the spiritual realm. He begins
with the individual. His first concern is to reveal to every child of
God the great fact of the divine Fatherhood, and to bring him into
filial relations. His whole programme for humanity rests on this simple
possibility of realizing the Fatherhood of God. If this can be realized,
everything else will follow. If any man is in the right filial relations
with his Father in heaven, he cannot be in wrong social relations with
his brother on the earth. If he is in harmony with God in thought and
feeling, he must think God's thoughts about his neighbor, and the law of
love will be the law of all his conduct. No man can love the God and
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with heart and soul and mind without
loving his neighbor as himself. Heartily to believe what Jesus has told
us about the Father, and fully to enter into fellowship with him, is to
put ourselves into such relations with our fellow men that every duty we
owe them will be spontaneously performed. In a society composed of men
who were thus in harmony with God the only social question for each man
would be, "How can I best befriend and serve my neighbor?"

That the religion of Jesus begins here, in the heart of the individual,
cannot be questioned. And it must never be forgotten that there can be
no sound social construction which does not build on this foundation.
But it is well to remember also that here, as everywhere, a foundation
calls for a building, and is useless and unsightly and obstructive
without it. The foundation of Christianity is the reconciliation of
individual souls to God, and the establishment of friendship between
these individual souls and God; but what is the structure for which this
foundation is laid? It is the establishment of the same divine
friendship among men. That is the building for which the foundation
calls. If the building does not go up, the foundation is worthless. If
the building does not go up, the foundation itself will crumble and
decay. The only way to save a foundation is to cover it with a building.

Fault might be found with the figure, but the fact which it imperfectly
illustrates is beyond gainsaying. The right relation to God, which Jesus
always makes fundamental, cannot be maintained except as it issues in
right relations with men. Here is the apostle John's blunt way of
putting it: "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a
liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love
God whom he hath not seen. And this commandment have we from him, that
he who loveth God love his brother also."

The commandment is, in fact, only the statement of a logical necessity.
How could any human being enter into a loving communion with that great
Friend whose love is always brooding over our race, who is seeking to do
us good and not evil all the days of our lives, who is kind even to the
unthankful and the evil,--and not be a lover of his fellow men and a
servant of all their needs?

It is evident, therefore, that a religion which has no room in it for
social questions cannot be the Christian religion. The social question
is the one question which Christianity--genuine Christianity--never
ceases to ask. The first thing it wishes to know about your religious
experience is, how it affects your relations with your fellow men. It
insists that your relations must first be right with God, but in the
same breath it declares that there is no way of knowing whether or not
your relations are right with God except by observing how you behave
among your fellow men. Faith is the root, but faith without works is
dead, being alone; and works concern your human relations.

These principles enable us to determine what is the business of the
church. Its business is to foster and propagate Christianity, and
Christianity exists to establish in this world the kingdom of heaven.
The church is not, therefore, an end in itself; it is an instrument; it
is a means employed by God for the promotion, in the world, of the
kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not an ecclesiastical
establishment; it includes the whole of life,--business, politics, art,
education, philanthropy, society in the narrow sense, the family: when
all these shall be pervaded and controlled by the law of love, then the
kingdom of heaven will have fully come. And the business of the church
in the world is to bring all these departments of life under Christ's
law of love. If it seeks to convert men, it is that they may be filled
with the spirit of Christ and may govern their conduct among men by
Christ's law. If it gathers them together for instruction or for
inspiration, it is that they may be taught Christ's way of life and sent
out into the world to live as he lived among their fellow men. Its
function is to fill the world with the knowledge of Christ, the love of
Christ, the life of Christ. That is what Christ meant by saving the
world. The world is saved when this is true of it, and it is never saved
till then. The work of the church is successful just to the extent to
which it succeeds in Christianizing the social order in the midst of
which it stands.

If by means of its ministrations, the community round about the church
is steadily becoming more Christian; if kindness, sympathy, purity,
justice, good-will, are increasing in their power over the lives of men;
if business methods are becoming less rapacious; if employers and
employed are more and more inclined to be friends rather than foes; if
politicians are growing conscientious and unselfish; if the enemies of
society are in retreat before the forces of decency and order; if
amusements are becoming purer and more rational; if polite society is
getting to be simpler in its tastes and less ostentatious in its manners
and less extravagant in its expenditures; if poverty and crime are
diminishing; if parents are becoming more wise and firm in the
administration of their sacred trust, and children more loyal and
affectionate to their parents,--if such fruits as these are visible on
every side, then there is reason to believe that the church knows its
business and is prosecuting it with efficiency. If none of these effects
are seen in the life of the community, the evidence is clear that the
church is neglecting its business, and that failure must be written
across its record.

Even though it be true that large numbers are added to its membership,
that its congregations are crowded, its revenues abundant, its
missionary contributions liberal, and its social prestige high; yet if
the standards of social morality in its neighborhood are sinking rather
than rising, and the general social drift and tendency is toward
animalism and greed and luxury and strife, the church must be pronounced
a failure: nay, even if it be believed that the church is succeeding in
getting a great many people safely to heaven when they die; yet if the
social tendencies in the world about it are all downward, its work, on
the whole, must be regarded as a failure. Its main business is not
saving people out of the world, it is saving the world. When it is
evident that the world, under its ministration, is growing no better but
rather worse, no matter what other good things it may have the credit of
doing, the verdict is against it.

This judgment rests, of course, against the collective church of the
community or the nation, rather than against any local congregation. It
may be that there are a hundred churches in a city, and that ten of them
are working efficiently to leaven society with Christian ideas and
principles, while the other ninety are content to fill up their
membership lists and furnish the consolations of religion to the people
who make up their congregations. The church of that city would probably
be a failure, but the ten congregations which had accepted Christ's idea
of the church and were striving to realize it could not be charged with
the failure. They would have done what they could to prevent it. If the
rest had been working in the same way, the results would have been

The point on which attention must be fixed is simply this, that the test
of the efficiency of the church must be found in the social conditions
of the community to which it ministers. Its business is to Christianize
that community. There is no question but that the resources are placed
within its reach by which this business may be done. If it is done, the
church may hope to hear the commendation, "Well done, good and faithful
servant!" If it is not done, no matter how many other gains are made,
the church must expect the condemnation of its Master.

It must not be gathered from this argument that the church in modern
life is a failure. There may be discouraging signs, reasons for
solicitude; but it may appear, after all, that the signs are on the
whole encouraging. We are not maintaining that the social tendencies in
modern society are all downward; far from it. We are simply pointing out
that it is only by observing these tendencies that we can judge whether
or not the church is fulfilling its mission.

It is greatly to be feared, however, that many of the churches of the
present day fail to apply this test to themselves. Their social
responsibility is by no means so clear to them as it ought to be.
Indeed, there are not a few among them that spurn it altogether,
declaring that their business is to save souls; that the condition of
the social order is no concern of theirs.

There is some reason to believe that phrases of this kind are often used
without due consideration of their meaning. What is meant by the saving
of a soul? Is not the one sin from which souls need to be saved the sin
of selfishness? Is not the death that threatens the souls of men, from
which we seek to rescue them, simply the result of the violation of
Christ's law of love? What is salvation but bringing them back to
obedience of this law? And this law finds expression in the social
order--can find expression nowhere else. It is the law of our social
relations. What possible evidence can you have that a soul is saved
until you see it entering into social relations and behaving properly in

It is to be feared that these very simple truths are not always so well
understood as they should be. There is a notion that salvation is
something metaphysical, or legal, or sentimental; that it consists in
the belief of certain propositions or the experience of certain
emotions. But all this is delusive and puerile. If it is with the heart
that man believeth, he "believeth _unto righteousness_;" that is the
destination of his faith; and unless his faith goes that way and reaches
that goal, there is no salvation in it. Righteousness is the result of
saving faith; and "he that _doeth_ righteousness is righteous"--none
else. Righteousness is right relations--first with God, and then with
men. And no man can have any evidence that he is in right relations with
God except as he finds himself in right relations with men.

The message of Christianity, we often hear it said, is to the
individual. Yes, it is; and what is the message of Christianity to the
individual? The first thing that it tells him is that he is not, in
strictness, an individual, any more than a hand or a foot or an eye or
an ear is an individual; that he is a member of a body; that he derives
all that is highest and most essential in his life from the life of
humanity, to which he is vitally and organically related; that no man
liveth to himself; that his good is not, and can never be, an exclusive
personal good,--that it is in what he shares with all the rest. The doom
from which Christianity seeks to save the individual is the doom of
moral individualism; the blessedness into which it seeks to lead him is
the blessedness of love.

Thus it appears that even these cant phrases by which the church
sometimes tries to fence itself off from the world into a pietistic
religiousness that has little or nothing to do with life, all point,
when you get their real significance, to a relation between the church
and the social order so close and vital that any attempt to sever the
bond must be fatal to the life of both. The church is in the world to
save the world; that is its business; and it can never know whether it
is succeeding in its business unless it keeps a vigilant eye on all that
is going on in the world, and shapes its activities to secure in the
world right social relations among men.

In what manner the church is to carry forward this work of
Christianizing society is a practical question calling for great wisdom.
It may not be needful that the church should undertake to organize the
industrial or political or domestic or philanthropic machinery of
society. Its business is not, ordinarily, to construct social machinery;
its business is to furnish social motive power. It is the dynamic of
society for which it is responsible. But the dynamic which it furnishes
must be a _dynamic which will create the machinery_. Life makes its own
forms. And the church must fill society with a kind of life which will
produce such forms of cooeperation as shall secure the prevalence of
justice and friendship, of peace and good-will among men. It may not be
required to look after details, but it must make sure of the results. If
the results are secured, if society is Christianized, if the social
order is producing a better breed of men, if the business of the world
goes on more and more smoothly, and all things are working together to
increase the sum of human welfare, then the church may be sure that the
life which she is contributing to the vitalization of society is the
life that is life indeed. But if the social tendencies are all in the
other direction, then she should awaken to the fact that the light that
is in her must be darkness, and that the responsibility for this failure
lies at her doors.

It is the recognition and acceptance of this responsibility for which we
are pleading. That the church, in all the ages, has very imperfectly
comprehended this responsibility is a lamentable fact. What the social
aims of Jesus himself were, most of us can fairly understand. The Sermon
on the Mount indicates to us the kind of society which he expected to
see established on the earth. He never defined the kingdom of heaven,
which he bade us seek first, but he described it in so many ways that we
know very well what manner of society it would be. But the church which
has called itself by his name has but feebly grasped the truth he
taught. As a late writer has said: "As soon as the thoughts of a great
spiritual leader pass to others and form the animating principle of a
party, or school, or sect, there is an inevitable drop. The disciples
cannot keep pace with the sweep of the Master. They flutter where he
soared. They coarsen and materialize his dreams.... This is the tragedy
of all who lead. The farther they are in advance of their times, the
more they will be misunderstood and misrepresented by the very men who
swear by their name and strive to enforce their ideas and aims. If the
followers of Jesus had preserved his thought and spirit without leakage,
evaporation, or adulteration, it would be a fact unique in history."[17]

That his disciples held fast so many of the ideas and impulses he
imparted to them, and that they have been turned to so large account in
the reconstruction of the social order, is matter for profound
thankfulness. But much of this has been indirectly wrought; the
Christian elements which appear in the industrial order of to-day are
largely of the nature of by-products. It can hardly be said that the
church of Jesus Christ has ever, in any age, consciously and clearly set
before herself the business which he committed to her hands. She has
always been putting the emphasis somewhere else than where he put it;
she has always been doing something else instead of the great task which
he began and left her to finish. It is the great failure of history--the
turning aside of the Christian church from the work of Christianizing
the social order, and the expenditure of her energies, for nineteen
centuries, on other pursuits.

The writer from whom I quoted devotes a very interesting chapter to the
reasons why the church has never attempted the work of social
reconstruction. He shows that it would have been almost impossible in
the early Christian centuries for the Christians to have undertaken any
work of social reform; if, under the rigors of the Roman despotism, they
had meddled with politics, they would have lost their heads. Then they
began to look for a miraculous return of Jesus to set up his kingdom in
the world, and they waited for him to reconstruct the social order. That
expectation held them for a thousand years. When it failed, they turned
their thoughts to heaven, and "as the eternal life came to the front in
Christian hope the kingdom of God receded to the background, and with it
went much of the social potency of Christianity. The kingdom of God was
a social and collective hope, and it was for this earth. The eternal
life was an individualistic hope, and it was not for this earth. The
kingdom of God involved the social transformation of humanity. The hope
of eternal life, as it was then held, was the desire to escape from this
world and be done with it." And this led to the ascetic tendency, which
made men think this world not worth mending. Then came in the paganizing
influences of the Middle Ages, which made ritual the supreme thing and
paralyzed the ethical motive; and then followed the controversies about
dogma, which deadened the life of the church, until finally the great
ecclesiasticism was developed, and the church, instead of being the
instrument for the Christianization of the world, became an empire in
itself, separate from the world, arrogating to itself all the honors and
powers of the kingdom of God. "By that substitution," says Professor
Rauschenbusch, "the church could claim all service and absorb all
social energies. It has often been said that the church interposed
between man and God. It also interposed between man and humanity. It
magnified what he did for the church and belittled what he did for
humanity. It made its own organization the chief object of social

This is only a hint of the process by which the church has been
deflected from its course, and hindered from undertaking, with conscious
purpose and consecrated power, her own proper work. She has done many
other things, some beautiful and excellent things, but the one thing she
was sent to do she has not done.

It is only in our own time that she has begun to get hold of the true
conception of her business in the world. That the church is here to seek
first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, to concentrate her
energies upon realizing the kingdom of God in the world, now begins to
be evident to men of insight; and there is a loud call upon her to
bestir herself and take up this work so long neglected, and give to it
all her energies. That is the meaning of the cry, "Back to Christ,"
which we are hearing in this generation. It means that the church needs
to get into sympathy with its Leader and Lord, to try to understand his
social aims, and to understand what he meant when he bade us seek first
the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Two or three practical suggestions may be ventured here to those who
have followed this argument.

We have seen that, since religion is a permanent need of human nature,
and since the church is indispensable to the maintenance of religion, it
becomes the duty of good men and women to ally themselves with the
church and help to make it efficient. But there are churches and
churches. We cannot help noting, as we look over the community, some
churches which at least dimly understand their business, and some which
obviously do not.

Some of us may be connected by birth or confession with churches that do
comprehend their true function. If so, let us rejoice in that fact, and
give our strength to the support of such churches in their work. It is,
far and away, the most important work that is being done in the world at
the present day. If we can have part in it, we ought to rejoice in that

We may be connected with churches which do not understand their
business. Possibly we may think that the best thing for us to do is to
come out of them, and seek fellowship with churches more enlightened.
Let us think two or three times before we decide upon this. Perhaps the
best thing we can do is to stay where we are and use our best endeavors,
modestly and patiently, to bring our own church to a realization of its

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