"Universality of the Christian Religion as contrasted with other forms of faith, ethnic or unlimited to race or nation,”
published as "A New Chapter of Christian Evidences”[1]

James Freeman Clarke, Church of the Disciples, Boston

Berry Street Essay, 1862


Read before the Ministerial Conference

May 28, 1862


[The manuscript of this Essay has not been found.  Reprinted here is a magazine article by Clarke, the first he ever published on world religions.  The article's content exactly matches the recorded title of his Berry Street Essay, "Universality of the Christian Religion as contrasted with other forms of faith, ethnic or unlimited to race or nation.”  In all probability, Clarke, after the Civil War, simply revised his Essay lightly to produce the article.]


In a series of articles, of which this is the first, we propose to state and unfold what we regard as an argument for the truth of Christianity, which is not only original, but also specially adapted to the present time. For as, in a great battle, when the current of the heady light has raged around some fiercely contested point, the tide often shifts to another part of the field, so it is in the war of opinions. The controversies which to former generations were matters of life and death are to us often questions of supreme indifference.

Is Christianity a supernatural or a natural religion? Is it a religion attested to be from God by miracles? This has been the great question in evidences for the last century. The truth and divine origin of Christianity have been made to depend on its supernatural character, and to stand or fall with a certain view of miracles. And then in order to maintain the reality of miracles, it became necessary to prove the infallibility of the record; and so we were taught that, to believe in Jesus Christ, we must first believe in the genuineness and authenticity of the whole New Testament. "All the theology of England,” says Mr. Pattison,[2] "was devoted to proving the Christian religion credible, in this manner.” "The apostles,” said Dr. Johnson, "were being tried once a week for the capital crime of forgery.” This was the work of the school of Lardner, Paley, and Whately.

But the real question between Christians and unbelievers in Christianity is, not whether our religion is or is not supernatural; not whether Christ’s miracles were or not violations of law; nor whether the New Testament, as it stands, is the work of inspired men. The main question, back of all these, is different, and not dependent on the views we may happen to take of the universality of law. It is this. Is Christianity, as taught by Jesus, intended by God to be the religion of the human race? Is it only one among natural religions? Is it to be superseded in its turn by others, or is it the one religion which is to unite all mankind? "Art thou he that should come, or look we for another?” this is the question which we ask of Jesus of Nazareth, and the answer to which makes the real problem of apologetic theology.

Now the defenders of Christianity have been so occupied with their special disputes about miracles, about naturalism and supernaturalism, and about the inspiration and infallibility of the apostles, that they have left uncultivated a wide field of inquiry, which we may designate by the name of Comparative Theology. Its work is to compare Christianity with other religions, in order to see how it stands related to them, and wherein they differ and agree. Such is the province of this new science. What we propose to do is to show by this comparison that Christianity possesses all the aptitudes which fit it to be the religion of the human race.

This method of establishing Christianity differs from the traditional argument in this: that, while the last undertakes to prove Christianity to be true, this shows it to be true. For if we can make it appear, by a fair survey of the principal religions of the world, that, while they are ethnic or local, Christianity is catholic or universal; that, while they are defective, possessing some truths and wanting others, Christianity possesses all; and that, while they are stationary, Christianity is progressive; it will not then he necessary to discuss in what sense it is a supernatural religion. Such a survey will show that it is adapted to the nature of man. But when we see adaptation we naturally infer design. If Christianity appears, after a full comparison with other religions, to be the one and only religion which is perfectly adapted to man, it will be impossible to doubt that it was designed by God to the religion of our race; that it is the providential religion sent by God to man, its truth God’s truth, its way the way to God and to Heaven.

But in conducting this proof it is necessary to avoid an error into which most of the apologists of the last century fell, in speaking of the heathen or ethnic[3] religions. In order to show the need of Christianity, they thought it necessary to disparage all other religions. Accordingly, they have insisted that, while the Jewish and Christian religions were revealed, all other religions were invented; that, while these were from God, those were the work of man; that, while in the true religions there was nothing false, in the false religions there was nothing true. If any trace of truth was to be found in Polytheism, it was so mixed with error as to be practically only evil. As the doctrines of heathen religions were corrupt, so their worship was only a debasing superstition. Their influence was to make men worse, not better; their tendency was to produce sensuality, cruelty, and universal degradation. They did not proceed, in any sense, from God; they were not even the work of good men, but rather of deliberate imposition and priestcraft. A supernatural religion had become necessary in order to counteract the fatal consequences of these debased and debasing superstitions. This is the view of the great natural religions of the world which was taken by such writers as Leland, Whitby, and Warburton in the last century. Even liberal thinkers, like James Foster and John Locke, declare that, at the coming of Christ, mankind had fallen into utter darkness, and that vice and superstition filled the world. Infidel no less than Christian Writers took the same disparaging view of natural religions. They considered them, in their source, the work of fraud; in their essence, corrupt superstitions; in their doctrines, wholly false; in their moral tendency, absolutely injurious; and in their result, degenerating more and more into greater evil.[4]

Such extravagant views naturally produced a reaction. It was felt to be disparaging to human nature to suppose that almost the whole human race should consent to be fed on error. Such a belief is a denial of God’s providence, as regards nine tenths of mankind. Accordingly it has become more usual of late to rehabilitate heathenism, and to place it on the same level with Christianity, if not above it. The Vedas are talked about as though they were somewhat superior to the Old Testament, and Confucius is quoted as an authority quite equal to St. Paul or St. John. An ignorant admiration of the sacred books of the Buddhists and Brahmins has succeeded to the former ignorant and sweeping condemnation of them. What is now needed is a fair and candid examination and comparison of these systems from reliable sources. Until within a few years this was impossible. It is only within the last twenty-five years that the books of the East have become accessible to European scholars. The savants of France, Germany, and England are even now fully occupied in giving us the special results of their examinations, and the time may scarcely have come for a full comparison of these results, but comparative science will also enter this field. Analysis must always precede synthesis; but until synthesis arrives, the work of analysis is of little avail, Therefore, as studies in special philology have prepared the way for comparative philology; as partial geography has been succeeded by comparative geography; and comparative anatomy has followed special anatomy; so must the science of comparative theology follow examinations in special religions. And it is our purpose, in this and successive papers, to furnish such fruits of the comparison of ethnic and catholic religions as shall, while doing justice to the former, help us better to understand the permanent value of Christianity to the human race.

The first point which we think will be established by such a. survey is this; —


1. Most of the religions of the world are ethnic religions, or the religions of races.  Christianity alone is a catholic religion.

By ethnic religions we mean those religions, each of which has always been confined within the boundaries of a particular race or family of mankind, and has never made proselytes or converts, except accidentally, outside of it. By catholic religions we mean those which have shown the desire and power of passing over these limits, and becoming the religion of a considerable number of persons belonging to different races.

Now we are met at once with the striking and obvious fact that most of the religious of the world are evidently religions limited in some way to particular races or nations. They are, as we have said, ethnic. We use this Greek word rather than its Latin equivalent gentile, because gentile, though meaning literally "of, or belonging to, a race,” has acquired a special sense from its New Testament use as meaning all who are not Jews. The word "ethnic” remains pure from any such secondary or acquired meaning, and signifies simply thatwhich belongs to a race.

The science of ethnology is a modern one, and is still in the process of formation. Some of its conclusions, however, may be considered as established. It has forever set aside Blumenbach’s old division of mankind into the Caucasian and four other varieties, and has given us, instead, a division of the largest part of mankind into Indo-European, Semitic, and Turanian families, leaving a considerable penumbra outside as yet unclassified.

That mankind is so divided into races of men it would seem hardly possible to deny. It is proved by physiology, by psychology, by glossology, and by civil history. Physiology shows us anatomical differences between races. There are as marked and real differences between the skull of a Hindoo and that of a Chinaman as between the skulls of an Englishman and a negro. There is not as great a difference, perhaps, but it is as real and as constant. Then the characters of races remain distinct, the same traits reappearing after many centuries exactly as at first. We find the same difference of character between the Jews and Arabs, who are merely different families of the same Semitic race, as existed between their ancestors Jacob and Esau, as described in the Book of Genesis. Jacob and the Jews are prudent, loving trade, money-making, tenacious of their ideas, living in cities; Esau and the Arabs, careless, wild, hating cities, loving the desert.

A similar example of the maintaining of a moral type is found in the characteristic differences between the Germans and Kelts, two families of the same Indo-European race. Take an Irishman and a German, working side by side on the Mississippi, and they present the same characteristic differences as the Germans and Kelts described by Tacitus and Caesar. The German loves liberty, the Kelt equality; the one hates the tyrant, the other the aristocrat; the one is a serious thinker, the other a quick and vivid thinker; the one is a Protestant in religion, the other a Catholic. Ammianus Marcellinus, living in  Gaul in the fourth century, describes the Kelts thus (see whether it does not apply to the race now).

"The Gauls,” says be, "are mostly tall of stature,[5] fair and red-haired, and horrible from the fierceness of their eyes, fond of strife, and haughtily insolent. A whole band of strangers would not endure one of them, aided in his brawl by his powerful and blue-eyed wife, especially when with swollen neck and gnashing teeth, poising her huge white arms, she begins, joining kicks to blows, to put forth her fists like stones from a catapult. Most of their voices are terrific and threatening, as well when they are quiet as when they are angry. All ages are thought fit for war. They are a nation very fond of wine, and invent many drinks resembling it, and some of the poorer sort wander about with their senses quite blunted by continual intoxication.”

Now we find that each race, beside its special moral qualities, seems also to have special religious qualities, which cause it to tend toward some one kind of religion more than to another kind. These religions are the flower of the race; they come forth from it as its best aroma. Thus we see that Brahmanism is confined to that section or race of the great Aryan family which has occupied India for more than thirty centuries. It belongs to the Hindoos, to the people taking its name from the Indus, by the tributaries of which stream it entered India from the northwest. It has never attempted to extend itself as a faith beyond that particular variety of mankind. Perhaps one hundred and fifty millions of men accept it as their faith. It has been held by this race as their religion during a period immense in the history of mankind. Its sacred books are certainly more than three thousand years old. But during all this time it has never communicated itself to any race of men outside of the peninsula of India. It is thus seen to be a strictly ethnic religion, showing neither the tendency nor the desire to become the religion of mankind.

The same thing may be said of the religion of Confucius. It belongs to China and the Chinese. It suits their taste and genius. They have had it as their state religion for some twenty-three hundred years, and it rules the opinions of the rulers of opinion among three hundred millions of men. But out of China Confucius is only a name.

So, too, of the system of Zoroaster. It was for a. long period the religion of an Aryan tribe who became the ruling people among mankind. The Persians extended themselves through Western Asia, and conquered many nations, but they never communicated their religion. It was strictly a national or ethnic religion, belonging only to the Iranians and their descendants, the Parsees.

In like manner it may be said that the religion of Egypt, of Greece, of Scandinavia, of the Jews, of Islam, and of Buddhism, are ethnic religions. Those of Egypt and Scandinavia are strictly so. It is said, to be sure, that the Greeks borrowed the names of their gods from Egypt, but the gods themselves were entirely different ones. It is also true that the gods of the Romans were borrowed from the Greeks, but their life was left behind. They merely repeated by rote the Greek mythology, having no power to invent one for themselves. But the Greek religion they never received. For instead of its fair humanities, the Roman gods were only servants of the state, — a higher kind of consuls, tribunes, and lictors. The real Olympus of Rome was the Senate Chamber on the Capitoline Hill. Judaism also was in reality an ethnic religion, though it aimed at catholicity and expected it, and made proselytes. But it could not tolerate unessentials, and so failed of becoming catholic. The Jewish religion, until it had Christianity to help it, was never able to do more than make a few proselytes here and there. Christianity, while preaching the doctrines of Jesus and the New Testament, has been able to carry also the weight of the Old Testament, and to give a certain catholicity to Judaism. The religion of Mohammed has been catholic, in that it has become the religion of very different races, — the Arabs, Turks, and Persians, belonging to the three great varieties of the human family. But then Mohammedanism has never sought to make converts, but only subjects; it has not asked for belief, but merely for submission. Consequently Mr. Palgrave, Mr. Lane, and Mr. Vambery tell us, that, in Arabia, Egypt, and Turkistan, there are multitudes who are outwardly Mohammedan, but who in their private belief reject Mohammed, and are really Pagans. But, no doubt, there is a catholic tendency both in Judaism and Mohammedanism; and this comes from the great doctrine which they hold in common with Christianity,— the unity of God. Faith in that is the basis of all expectation of a universal religion, and the wish and the power to convert others come from that doctrine of the Divine unity.


But Christianity teaches the unity of God, not merely as a supremacy of power and will, but as a Supremacy of love and wisdom; it teaches God as Father, and not merely as King; so it seeks not merely to make proselytes and subjects, but to make converts. Hence Christianity, beginning as a Semitic religion, among the Jews, went across the Greek Archipelago and converted the Hellenic and the Latin races; afterward the Goths, Lombards, Franks, Vandals; later still, the Saxons, Danes, and Normans. Meantime, its Nestorian missionaries, pushing east, made converts in Armenia, Persia, India, and China. In later days it has converted negroes, Indians, and the people of the Pacific Islands. Something, indeed, stopped its progress after its first triumphant successes during seven or eight centuries. At the tenth century it reached its term. Modern missions, whether those of Jesuits or Protestants, have not converted whole nations and races, but only individuals here and there. The reason of this check, probably, is, that Christians have repeated the mistakes of the Jews and Mohammedans. They have sought to make proselytes to an outward system of worship and ritual, or to make subjects to a dogma; but not to make converts to an idea and a life. When the Christian missionaries shall go and say to the Hindoos or the Buddhists: "You are already on your way toward God,— your religion came from him, and was inspired by his Spirit; only now he sends you something more and higher by his Son; who does not come to destroy but to fulfil, not to take away any good thing you have, but to add to it something better,” then we shall see the process of conversion, checked in the ninth and tenth centuries, reinaugurated.

Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, all teaching the strict unity or God, have all aimed at becoming universal. Judaism failed because it sought proselytes instead off making converts, the religion of Mohammed (in reality a Judaizing Christian sect), failed because it sought to make subjects rather than converts. Its conquests over a variety of races were extensive, but not deep.

To-day it holds in its embrace at least four very distinct races, — the Arabs, a Semitic race, the Persians, an Indo-European race, the Negroes, and the Turks or Iranians. But, correctly viewed, Islam is only a heretical Christian sect, and so all this must be credited to the interest of Christianity. Islam is a John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord”; Mohammed is a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. It does for the nations just what Judaism did, that is, it teaches the Divine unity. Esau has taken the place of Jacob in the economy of Providence. When the Jews rejected Christ they ceased from their providential work, and their cousins, the Arabs, took their place. The conquests of Islam, therefore, ought to he regarded as the preliminary conquests of Christianity.

There is still another system which has shown some tendencies toward catholicity. This is Buddhism, which has extended itself over the whole of the eastern half of Asia. But though it includes a variety of nationalities, it is doubtful if it includes any variety of races. All the Buddhists appear to belong to the great Mongol family. And although this system originated among the Aryan race in India, it has entirely let go its hold of that family and transferred itself wholly to the Mongols.

But Christianity, from the first, showed itself capable of taking possession of the convictions of the most different races of mankind, Now, as on the day of Pentecost, many races hear the apostles speak in their own tongues, in which they were born, — Parthians, Medes, Elamites, dwellers in Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Lybia about Cyrene, strangers of Rome, Cretes and Arabians. The miracle of tongues was a type of the effect of the truth in penetrating the mind and heart of different nationalities. The Jewish Christians, indeed, tried to repeat in Christianity their old mistake which had prevented Judaism from becoming universal.

They wished to insist that no one should become a Christian unless he became a Jew at the same time. If they had succeeded in this, they would have effectually kept the Gospel of Christ from becoming, a catholic religion. But the Apostle Paul was raised up for the emergency, and he prevented this suicidal course. Consequently Christianity passed at once into Europe, and became the religion of Greeks and Romans as well as Jews. Paul struck off from it its Jewish shell, told them that as Christians they had nothing to do with the Jewish law, or with Jewish Passovers, Sabbaths, or ceremonies. As Christians they were only to know Christ, and they were not to know him according to the flesh, that is, not as a Jew. So Christianity became at once a catholic religion, consisting wholly in the diffusion of great truths and a divine life. It overflowed the nationalities of Greece and Rome, of North Africa, of Persia and Western Asia, at the very beginning. It conquered the Gothic and German conquerors of the Roman Empire. Under Arian missionaries, it converted Goths, Vandals, Lombards. Under Nestorian missionaries, it penetrated as far east as China, and made converts there. In like manner the Gospel spread over the whole of North Africa, whence it was afterwards expelled by the power of Islam. It has shown itself, therefore, capable of adapting itself to every variety of human race.


II. The ethnic religions are one-sided, each containing a truth of            its own, but each being defective, wanting some corresponding truth. Christianity, or the catholic religion, is complete on every side.


Brahmanism, for example, is complete on the side of spirit, defective on that of matter; full as regards the infinite, empty of the finite; recognizing eternity but not time, God but not nature. It is a vast system of spiritual pantheism, in which there is no reality but God, all else being Maya or illusion. The Hindoo mind is singularly pious, but also, singularly immoral. It has no history, for history belongs to time. No one knows when its sacred hooks were written, when its civilization began, what caused its progress, what its decline. Gentle, devout, abstract, it is capable at once of the loftiest thoughts and the basest actions. It combines the most ascetic self-denials and abstraction from life, with the most voluptuous self-indulgence. The key to the whole system of Hindoo thought and life is in this original tendency to see God, not man; eternity, not time; the infinite, not the finite.

Buddhism, which was a revolt from Brahmanism, has exactly the opposite truths and the opposite defects. Where Brahmanism is strong, it is weak; where Brahmanism is weak, it is strong. It recognizes man, not God; the soul, not the all; the finite, not the infinite; morality, not piety. Its only God, Buddha, is a man who has passed on through innumerable transmigrations, till, by means of exemplary virtues, he has reached the lordship of the universe. Its heaven, Nirwana, is indeed the world of infinite bliss; but, incapable of cognizing the infinite, it calls it nothing. Heaven, being the inconceivable infinite, is equivalent to pure negation. Nature, to the Buddhist, instead of being the delusive shadow of God, as the Brahman views it, is envisaged as a nexus of laws, which reward and punish impartially both obedience and disobedience.

The system of Confucius has many merits, especially in its influence on society. The most conservative of all systems, and also the must prosaic, its essential virtue is reverence for all that is. It is not perplexed by any fear or hope of change; the thing which has been is that which shall be; and the very idea of progress is eliminated from the thought of China. Safety, repose, peace, these are its blessings. Probably merely physical comfort, earthly bien-être, was never carried further than in the Celestial Empire. That virtue, so much exploded in Western civilization, of respect for parents, remains in full force in China. The emperor is honored as the father of his people; ancestors are worshipped in every family; and the best reward offered for a good action is a patent of nobility, which does not reach forward to one’s children, but backward to one’s parents. This is the bright side of Chinese life; the dark side is the fearful ennui, the moral death, which fails on a people among whom there are no such things as hope, expectation, or the sense of progress. Hence the habit of suicide among this people, indicating their small hold on life. In every Chinese drama there are two or three suicides. A soldier will commit suicide rather than go into battle. It you displease a Chinaman, he will resent the offence by killing himself on your doorstep, hoping thus to give you some inconvenience. Such are the merits and such the defects of the system of Confucius.

The doctrine of Zoroaster and of the Zend-Avesta is far nobler. Its central thought is that each man is a soldier, bound to battle for good against evil. The world, at the present time, is the scene of a great warfare between the hosts of light and those of darkness. Every man who thinks purely, speaks purely, and acts purely, is a servant of Ormuzd, the king of light, and thereby helps on his course. The result of this doctrine was that wonderful Persian empire, which astonished the world for centuries by its brilliant successes, and the virtue and intelligence of the Parsees of the present time, the only representatives in the world of that venerable religion. The one thing lacking to the system is unity. It thrives in perpetual conflict. Its virtues are all the virtues of a soldier. Its defects and merits are both the polar opposites of those of China. If the everlasting peace of China tends to moral stagnation and death, the perpetual struggle and conflict of Persia tends to exhaustion. The Persian Empire rushed through a short career of flame to its tomb; the Chinese Empire vegetates, unchanged, through a myriad of years.


If Brahmanism and Buddhism occupy the opposite poles of the same axis of thought,— if the system of Confucius stands opposed, on another axis, to that of Zoroaster,— we find a third development of like polar antagonisms in the systems of ancient Egypt and Greece. Egypt stands for Nature; Greece for Man. Inscrutable as is the mystery of that Sphinx of the Nile, the old religion of Egypt, we can yet trace some phases of its secret. Its reverence for organization appears in the practice of embalming. The bodies of men and of animals seemed to it to be divine. Even vegetable organization had something sacred in it: "O holy nation,” said the Roman satirist, "whose gods grow in gardens!” That plastic force of nature which appears in organic life and growth made up, in various forms, the Egyptian Pantheon. The life-force of nature became divided into the three groups of gods, the highest of which represented its largest generalizations. Kneph, Neith, Sevech, Pascht, are symbols, according to Lepsius, of the World-Spirit, the World-Matter, Space and Time. Each circle of the gods shows us some working, of the mysterious powers of nature, and of its occult laws. But when we come to Greece, these personified laws turn into men. Everything in the Greek Pantheon is human. All human tendencies appear transfigured into glowing forms of light on Mount Olympus. The gods of Egypt are powers and laws; those of Greece are persons.

The opposite tendencies of these antagonist forms of piety appear in the development of Egyptian and Hellenic life. The gods of Egypt were mysteries too far removed from the popular apprehension to be objects of worship; and so religion in Egypt became priestcraft. In Greece, on the other hand, the gods were too familiar, too near to the people, to be worshipped with any real reverence. Partaking in all human faults and vices, it must sooner or later come to pass, that familiarity would breed contempt. And as the religion of Egypt perished from being kept away from the people, as an esoteric system in the hands of priests; that of Greece, in which there was no priesthood as an order, came to an end because the gods ceased to be objects of respect at all.

We see, from these examples, how each of the great ethnic religions tends to a disproportionate and excessive, because one-sided, statement of some divine truth or law. The question then emerges at this point: "Is Christianity also one-sided, or does it contain in itself all these truths?” Is it teres atque rotundus, so as to be able to meet every natural religion with a kindred truth, and thus to supply the defects of each from its own fulness? If it can be shown to possess this amplitude, it at once is placed by itself in an order of its own. It is not to be classified with the other religions, since it does not share their one family fault. In every other instance we can touch with our finger the weak place, the empty side, Is there any such weak side in Christianity? It is the office of comparative theology to answer.

The positive side of Brahmanism we saw to be its sense of spiritual realities. That is also fully present in Christianity. Not merely does this appear in such New Testament texts as these: "God is spirit,” "The letter killeth, the spirit giveth life”: not only does the New Testament just graze and escape Pantheism in such passages as "From whom, and through whom, and to whom are all things,” "Who is above all, and through all, and in us all,” "In him we live and move, and have our being,” but the whole history of Christianity is the record of a spiritualism almost too excessive. It has appeared in the worship of the Church, the hymns of the Church, the tendencies to asceticism, the depreciation of earth and man. Christianity, therefore, fully meets Brahmanism on its positive side, while it fulfils its negations, as we shall see hereafter, by adding as full a recognition of man and nature.

The positive side of Buddhism is its cognition of the human soul and the natural laws of the universe. Now, if we look into the New Testament and into the history of the Church, we find this element also fully expressed. It appears in all the parables and teachings of Jesus, in which man is represented as a responsible agent, rewarded or punished according to the exact measure of his works; receiving the government of ten or five cities according to his stewardship. And when we look into the practical working of Christianity we find almost an exaggerated stress laid on the duty of saving one’s soul. This exaggerated estimate is chiefly seen in the monastic system of the Roman Church, and in the Calvinistic sects of Protestantism. It also comes to light again, curiously enough, in such books as Combe’s "Constitution of Man,” the theory of which is exactly the same as that of the Buddhists, namely, that the aim of life is a prudential virtue, consisting in wise obedience to the natural laws of the universe. Both systems substitute prudence for Providence as the arbiter of human destiny. But, apart from these special tendencies in Christianity, it cannot be doubted that all Christian experience recognizes the positive truth of Buddhism in regarding the human soul as a substantial, finite, but progressive monad, not to be absorbed, as in Brahmanism, in the abyss of absolute being.

The positive side of the system of Confucius is the organization of the state on the basis of the family. The government of the emperor is paternal government, the obedience of the subject is filial obedience. Now, though Jesus did not for the first time call God "the Father,” he first brought Men into a truly filial relation to God. The Roman Church is organized on the family idea. The word "Pope” means the "Father”; he is the father of the whole Church. Every bishop and every priest is also the father of a smaller family, and all those born into the Church are its children, as all born into a family are born sons and daughters of the family. In Protestantism, also, society is composed of families as the body is made up of cells. Only in China, and in Christendom, is family life thus sacred and worshipful. In some patriarchal systems, polygamy annuls the wife and the mother; in others the father is a despot, and the children slaves; in other systems, the crushing authority of the state destroys the independence of the household. Christianity alone accepts with China the religion of family life with all its conservative elements, while it fulfils it with the larger hope of the kingdom of heaven and brotherhood of mankind.

This idea of the kingdom of heaven, so central in Christianity, is also the essential motive in the religion of Zoroaster. As, in the Zend-Avesta, every man is a soldier, fighting for light or for darkness, and neutrality is impossible; so, in the Gospel, light and good stand opposed to darkness and evil as perpetual foes. A certain current of dualism runs through the Christian Scriptures and the teaching of the Church. God and Satan, heaven and hell, are the only alternatives. Every one must choose between them. In the current theology, this dualism has been so emphasized as even, to exceed that of the Zend-Avesta. The doctrine of everlasting punishment and an everlasting hell has always been the orthodox doctrine in Christianity, while the Zend-Avesta teaches universal restoration, and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Nevertheless, practically, in consequence of the greater richness and fulness of Christianity, this tendency to dualism has been neutralized by its monotheism, and evil kept subordinate; while, in the Zend religion, the evil principle assumed such proportions as to make it the formidable rival of good in the mind of the worshipper. Here, as before, we may say that Christianity is able to do justice to all the truth involved in the doctrine of evil, avoiding any superficial optimism, and recognizing the fact that all true life must partake of the nature of a battle.

The positive side of Egyptian religion we saw to be a recognition of the divine element in nature, of that plastic, mysterious life which embodies itself in all organisms. Of this view we find little explicitly in the New Testament. But that the principles of Christianity contain it, implicitly, in an undeveloped form, appears, (1) Because Christian monotheism differs from Jewish and Mohammedan monotheism, in recognizing God "in all things” as well as God "above all things.” (2) Because Christian art and literature differ from classic art and literature in the [italics] romantic element, which is exactly the sense of this mysterious life in nature. The classic artist is a technè,a maker; the romantic artist is a troubadour, a finder. The one does his work in giving form to a dead material; the other, by seeking for its hidden life. (3.) Because modern science is invention, i.e. finding. It recognizes mysteries in nature which are to be searched into, and this search becomes a serious religious interest with all truly scientific men. It appears to such men a profanity to doubt or question the revelations of nature, and they believe in its infallible inspiration quite as much as the dogmatist believes in the infallible inspiration of Scripture, or the churchman in the infallible inspiration of the Church, We may, therefore, say, that the essential truth in the Egyptian system has been taken up into our modern Christian life.

And how is it, lastly, with that opposite pole of religious thought which blossomed out in "the fair humanities of old religion” in the wonderful Hellenic mind? The gods of Greece were men. They were not abstract ideas, concealing natural powers and laws. They were open as sunshine, bright as noon, a fair company of men and women, idealized and gracious, just a little way off, a little way up. It was humanity projected upon the skies, divine creatures of more than mortal beauty, but thrilling with human life and human sympathies. Has Christianity anything to offer in the place of this charming system of human gods and goddesses?

We answer that the fundamental doctrine of Christianity is the incarnation, the word made flesh. It is God revealed in man. Under some doctrinal type, this has always been believed. The common Trinitarian doctrine states it in a crude and illogical form. Yet somehow the man Christ Jesus has always been seen to be the best revelation of God. But unless there were some human element in the Deity, he could not reveal himself so in a human life. The doctrine of the incarnation, therefore, repeats the Mosaic statement that "man was made in the image of God.” Jewish and Mohammedan monotheism separate God entirely from the world. Philosophic monotheism, in our day, separates God from man, by teaching that there is nothing in common between the two by which God can be mediated, and so makes him wholly incomprehensible. Christianity gives us Emmanuel, God with us, equally removed from the stern despotic omnipotence of the Semitic monotheism, and the finite and imperfect humanities of Olympus. We see God in Christ, as full of sympathy with man, God "in us all”; and yet we see him in nature, providence, history, as "above all” and "through all.” The Roman Catholic Church has, perhaps, humanized religion too far. For every god and goddess of Greece she has given us, on some immortal canvas, an archangel or a saint, to be adored and loved. Instead of Apollo and the Python, we have Guido’s St. Michael and the Dragon; in place of the light, airy Mercury, she provides a St. Sebastian; instead of the "untouched” Diana, some heavenly Agnes or Cecilia. The Catholic heaven is peopled, all the way up, with beautiful human forms; and on the upper throne we have holiness and tenderness incarnate in the queen of heaven and her divine Son. All the Greek humanities are thus fulfilled in the ample faith of Christendom.

By such a critical survey as we have thus sketched in mere outline, it will be seen that each of the great ethnic religions is full on one side, but empty on the other, while Christianity is full all round. Christianity is adapted to take their place, not because they are false, but because they are true as far as they go. They "know in part and prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”


III. We find, finally, that while the ethnic religions are all arrested, come to an end, or degenerate, Christianity appears capable of a progressive development.


The religions of Persia, Egypt, -Greece, Rome, have come to an end; having shared the fate of the national civilization of which each was s part. The religions of China, Islam, Buddha, and Judea have all been arrested, and remain unchanged and seemingly unchangeable. Like great vessels anchored in a stream, the current of time flows past them, and each year they are further behind the spirit of the age, and less in harmony with its demands. Christianity alone, of all human religions, possesses the power of keeping abreast with the advancing civilization of the world. As the child’s soul grows with his body, so that when he becomes a man, it is a man’s soul, and not a child’s, so the Gospel of Jesus continues the soul of all human culture. It continually drops its old forms and takes new ones. It passed out of its Jewish body under the guidance of Paul. In a speculative age it unfolded into creeds and systems. In a worshipping age it developed ceremonies and a ritual.  When the fall of Rome left Europe without unity or centre, it gave it an organization and order though the Papacy. When the Papacy became a tyranny, and the Renaisance called for free thought, it suddenly put forth Protestantism, as the tree by the water-side sends forth its shoots in due season. Protestantism, free as air, opens out into the various sects, each taking hold of some human need; Lutheranism, Calvinism, Methodism, Swedenborgianism, or Rationalism. Christianity blossoms out into modern science, literature, art; children, who indeed often forget their mother, and are ignorant of their source, but which are still fed from her breasts and partake of her life. Christianity, the spirit of faith, hope, and love, is the deep fountain of modern civilization. Its inventions are for the many, not for the few. Its science is not hoarded, but diffused. It elevates the masses, who everywhere else have been trampled down. The friend of the people, it tends to free schools, a free press, a free government, the abolition of slavery, war, vice, and the melioration of society. We cannot, indeed, here prove that Christianity is the cause of these features peculiar to modern life. But we find it everywhere associated with them; and, so we can say that it only, of all the religions of mankind, has been capable of accompanying man in his progress from evil to good, from good to better.

The argument then, so far, stands thus:—

1. All the great religions the world, except Christianity and Mohammedanism, are ethnic religions, or religions limited to a single nation or race. Christianity alone (including Mohammedanism and Judaism, which are its temporary and local forms), is the religion of all races.

2. Every ethnic religion has its positive and negative side. Its positive side is that which holds some vital truth; its negative side is the absence of some other essential truth. Every such religion is true and providential, but each limited and imperfect.

3. Christianity alone is a … fulness of truth, not coming to destroy but to fulfil the previous religions; but being capable of replacing them by teaching all the truth they have taught, and supplying that which they have omitted.

4. Christianity, being not a system but a life, not a creed or a form but a spirit, is able to meet all the changing wants of an advancing civilization by new developments and adaptations, constantly feeding the life of mart at its roots by fresh supplies a faith in God and faith in man.[6]



[1] James Freeman Clarke, "A New Chapter of Christian Evidences,” The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. XXIII.—March, 1869.—No. CXXXVII, pp. 304-315..

[2] Essays and Reviews, Article VI.

[3] By ethnic religions we mean the religions of races or nations.

[4] See Christian Examiner, March, 1837, Art. II.

[5] In this respect the type has changed.

[6] The article ends by preparing for the next article, which was presumably not part of the original essay: "In our next paper we shall describe Brahmanism, according to the latest investigations of that system.”