February 4, 1897
DID the Lord Jesus make a mistake in regard to the way in which true reform should be conducted and accomplished in the world?
It is certain that all people look upon the mission and work of Christ in the world as having been at least intended to be reformatory.
Was His mission and work then truly reformatory or not? Did He proceed upon correct principles? did He employ right methods to accomplish real reform? or were His principles and methods altogether wrong?
These are not captious questions. They are not asked lightly. We are asking the questions seriously; and we ask that they be considered seriously. These are questions that need to be carefully and seriously considered, especially by all who profess to believe in Christ—by all who profess to have any respect for Him as a Reformer.
We are asking these questions just now, for the especial benefit of the Christian Endeavor Societies, the Christian Citizenship Leagues, the Christian Temperance Unions, and the combined Christian churches of the whole country. And this with especial reference to the principles which they have adopted and the methods which they employ. The principles entertained and the methods employed by these people as would-be reformers, are not at all those of Christ when He was on earth.
The conditions existing when Jesus Christ was on earth were just such conditions as are now upon the earth—only somewhat worse. The evils which then prevailed—private and public, individual and governmental—were precisely such as are now prevalent in the United States. There was corruption in government everywhere, whether municipal or national. Yet He did not, nor did He direct His disciples to, enter into an agitation for either municipal or national reform. He did not engage Himself, nor did He direct His disciples to engage, in the formation of any societies, leagues, unions, or federations, “to enthrone Christ in every town and city in the” Empire, nor to cause Him “to reign supreme on the Capitoline Hill.”
When a multitude of people were unanimous in the opinion that He should be King of His own city and His own country, which by the way were at the time governed by outrageously immoral men, He would not for a moment countenance their movement, but left the whole company and went away to the mountain alone.
When at another time the personage whose “seat” was at the Capital of the Empire, who really reigned on the Capitoline Hill, and who at the same time reigned in fearful unrighteousness, voluntarily offered to bestow upon Christ the power over all the kingdoms, and indeed over his whole Empire, according to much the same arrangement as these now propose to have Him reign on Capitol Hill, He unhesitatingly refused the offer.
There was tyranny of capital: and when one who was thus oppressed came to Jesus asking Him to direct an equable division of the capital, He refused to interfere, saying: “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? Take heed and beware of covetousness; for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
The social evil was sadly prevalent. Some Pharisees employing Pharisaic—now the Parkhurstian—method to suppress it, captured and brought to him a guilty one, “taken in the very act,” and demanded what He had to say as to stoning her to death. He answered, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” “Being convicted by their own conscience, they went out one by one” till all were gone and the criminal was left alone with Jesus. Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, hath no man condemned thee? She said, ‘No man, Lord.’ And Jesus said unto her, ‘Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more.’”
Now in none of this did Jesus for a moment convey the impression to the guilty one, nor to her accusers, nor to anybody else, that He either justified or excused what she had done. What she had done was wrong. It was a serious criminal offense. None knew this to its depths better than He. And knowing this, at the same time He showed to the Pharisaical accusers then and now and for all time, that their way of dealing with such people is not the Christian way.
Again, when his disciples decided that because they were his disciples, they were just so much better qualified than all others to hold the officers and exercise authority in the kingdom which they desired to have Him establish then upon the earth, He said to them: “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles, exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. BUT SO SHALL IT NOT BE AMONG YOU: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister; and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” “I am among you as He that serveth.”
So it was in all the life of Christ on earth. At a time when there were greater evils in government and in society than had ever been survived, he never did himself, not ever hinted that his disciples should, attempt to reform government or society, by any kind of political working, nor by any kind of governmental means. He ever in word and act kept himself far aloof from any suggestion of anything of the kind: and so did his disciples in the infancy and purity of the gospel as He left it upon the earth to be preached by them.
Yet on the other hand he freely employed and poured out to employ his disciples, “All power in heaven and in earth” to the individual to cleanse the heart from all sin and purify the life from all evil, in “every one that believeth,” from the leper in the fields to the king in his royal robes, from the slave in his stable and the prisoner in the dungeon to the emperor at the pinnacle of human greatness.
This was Christ and His Christianity then; and this alone is Christ and His Christianity forevermore. Such were the principles maintained, the methods and the power employed, by the Lord Jesus when he the true Christian and the true Reformer was at work on earth for the world; and such alone are the principles that can be maintained, the methods and the power employed, by true Christians and true reformers unto the world’s end.
Now if the Christian Endeavor Societies, the Christian Citizenship Leagues, the Christian Temperance Unions, and all kindred “Christian” organizations who have set themselves by political methods and governmental power so to reform the world that “Christ shall be enthroned in every town and city and State,” and “shall reign supreme on Capitol Hill”—if, we say, all these professed Christian bodies really believe that the principles and methods of Christ were the correct ones to effect the reform, why do not they adopt these and hold strictly to them?
If on the other hand they think that His principles and methods are now antiquated, that they are not adapted to present conditions, how then can they believe in Him as a living present Person in all affairs, any more than any other reformer of antiquity?
There are very few people who will not allow that Christ was a reformer for His day, and that His way was adapted to the conditions then existing, just as to allow so far the claims of other men who have sought to benefit their people. They will allow, too, that He … His work just as that of others may be looked upon as a good example; but that he is a present living Person and power for all time, and without whom all effort at true reform must fail, they will not allow…. a belief about Jesus, however, is far from being Christianity.
To believe that Jesus Christ is the Reformer for our time; that the principles held, the methods and power employed by Him, are adapted to all conditions of the human race; and that in the application of the identical principles, and the employment of these methods and this power, He is an ever-present living Person—this is to believe in Him as the true Reformer. Such belief in Jesus is Christianity.