Looking at the Words 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 more wise.
But, looking at the history of what men call Christianity, nothing seems more uncertain and perishable.
While true religion is always the same thing, in each century and every land, in each man that feels it, the Christianity of the Pulpit, which is the religion taught, which is the religion that is accepted and lived out; has never been the same thing in any two centuries or lands, except only in name.
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 then 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 thing; what his words, his life, his excellence of achievement?
Compare the simplicity of Christianity, as Jesus sets it forth on the Sermon 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, we fear, by theological battles, or the quarrels of pious men.
The Christianity of the pulpit, of society, is ephemeral – a transitory fly. It will pass away and be forgotten.
Some new form will take its place, suited to the changing times. Each will represent something of the truth; but not one the whole.
That pure ideal Religion which Jesus saw on the Mount, 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 us, most true to what is truest in us, cannot pass away.
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, as we are; the son of God, 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? In him, as in a mirror, we may see the image of God, and go on from glory to glory, till we are changed into the same image, led by the spirit that enlightens the humble. Viewed in this way, how beautiful is the life of Jesus!-
(Adapted From "A Discourse on the Transient and Permanent in Christianity," by Theodore Parker, May 19, 1841)