Jesus says his words shall never pass away. Yet at first
sight nothing seems more fleeting than a word. It is an evanescent impulse of
the most fickle element. It leaves no track where it went through the air. Yet
to this, and this only, did Jesus entrust the truth for the salvation of the
He took no pains to perpetuate his thoughts; they were poured forth
where occasion found him an audience - by the side of the lake, or a well; in a
cottage, or the temple; in a fisher’s boat, or the synagogue of the Jews.
He did not even write his words in a book. With a noble
confidence, the result of his abiding faith, he scattered them broadcast on
the world, leaving the seed to its own vitality.
Looking at the Word of Jesus, at real Christianity, the pure
religion he taught, nothing appears more fixed and certain. Its influence
widens as light extends; it deepens as the nations grow wiser. But, looking at
the history of what men call Christianity, nothing seems more uncertain and
In actual Christianity, there seem to have been, ever since
the time of its earthly founder, two elements, the one transient, the other
The one is the thought, the folly, the uncertain wisdom, the
theological notions, the impiety of man; the other, the eternal truth of God.
Transient things form a great part of what is commonly
taught as Religion. An undue place has often been assigned to forms and
doctrines, while too little stress has been laid on the divine life of the
soul, love to God, and love to man. Religious forms may be useful and
beautiful. They are so, whenever they speak to the soul, and answer a want of
Anyone who traces the history of what is called
Christianity, will see that nothing changes more from age to age than the
doctrines taught as Christian
, and insisted on as essential to Christianity and
personal salvation. What is falsehood in one province passes for truth in
another. The heresy of one age is the orthodox belief and “only infallible
rule” of the next. Since these notions are so fleeting, why need we accept the
commandment of men, as the doctrine of God?
Doubtless the time will come when men shall see Christ Jesus
also as he is. Well might he still say: “Have I been so long with you, and yet
hast thou not known me?” No! we have made him an idol, have bowed the knee
before him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews;” called him “Lord, Lord!” but done
not the things which he said. Truth will triumph at the last, and then we shall
see the Son of God as he is. Then will men understand the Word of Jesus, which
shall not pass away.
Measure him by the best of men, how little and low they
appear. Exalt him as much as we may, we shall yet, perhaps, come short of the
mark. But still, was he not our brother; the son of man, like ourselves? His
excellence, was it not human excellence? His wisdom, love, piety - sweet and
celestial as they were - are they not what we also may attain?
But if, as some early Christians began to do, you take a
heathen view, and make him a God, the Son of God in a peculiar and exclusive
sense - much of the significance of his character is gone. His virtue has no
merit; his love no feeling; his cross, no burden; his agony no pain. His death
is an illusion; his resurrection but a show.
For if he were not a man, but a
god, what are all these things; what his words, his life, his excellence of
achievement? It is all nothing, weighed against the inimitable greatness of Him
who created the worlds and fills up all time and space! Then his resignation is
no lesson; his life no model – to we, who are not gods, but mortal men.
While one generation of opinions passes away, and another
rises up; Christianity itself, that pure Religion, which exists eternal in the
constitution of the soul and the mind or God, is always the same. This truth we
owe to God; the revelation of it to Jesus,
our elder brother, God’s chosen son.
Come to the plain words of Jesus of Nazareth, and Christianity
is a simple thing; very simple. It is absolute, pure Morality; absolute, pure
Religion; the love of man; the love of God acting without let or hindrance. The
only creed it lays down is the great truth which springs up spontaneous in the
holy heart: there is a God. Its watchword is, be perfect as your Father in
Compare the simpleness of Christianity, as Jesus sets it
forth on the Mount, with what is sometimes taught and accepted in that honored
name; and what a difference! One is of God; one is of man.
There is something
in Christianity which sects have not reached; something that will not be won by
theological battles, or the quarrels of pious men.
The Christianity of sects, of the pulpit, of society, is ephemeral
- a transitory fly. It will pass off and be forgot. Some new form will take its
place, suited to the aspect of the changing times.
That pure ideal Religion which Jesus saw on the mount of his
vision, and lived out in the lowly life of a Galilean peasant; which transforms
his cross into an emblem of all that is holiest on earth; which makes sacred
the ground he trod, and is dearest to the best of men, most true to what is
truest in them, cannot pass away.
His words and example passed into the world, and can no more
perish than the stars be wiped out of the sky. The truths he taught; his
doctrines respecting man and God; the relation between man and man, and man and
God, with the duties that grow out of that relation, are always the same, and
can never change till man ceases to be man, and creation vanishes into nothing.
(Adapted from “The
Transient and Permanent In Christianity,” an 1841 sermon by Rev. Theodore