“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." - John 6:38.
Who will show us any good? Where are we to look for the clearest, truest setting forth of his religion?
There is such a variety of Churches, there are such differences of form and of creed, there is such a confusion of ecclesiastical tongues, and so many of them asserting that theirs is the only faith by which anyone can be saved.
And meanwhile, some think it doubtful if any faith can stand. Where shall we find some real light - some solid ground to rest upon?
Am I mistaken in saying that this is a craving widely felt at the present time?
The heart of society just now is in a curiously puzzled and perplexed condition. It is not satisfied. People have the answers of their various Churches.
These tell them in creed and catechism, in article and confession, what it is that man must believe, and which shall be "saving faith” to him.
And all the points are well backed up by “proof texts,” which sound clear and unmistakable; yet, when all is said, people are not satisfied.
It may not be that they have come to actually disbelieve these doctrines, but they do not feel that they go to the root of the matter.
Now I want to set before you what I believe to be the true way out of these doubts, the true way to this broader, simpler, more practical religion.
That way, I believe to be, to look simply to Christianity as Christ Jesus preached it; to go back, as near as we can, through the narratives of the Gospels, to Jesus as he went about among the people, himself preaching his own “good tidings" - his own religion.
See what he himself said. how he answered people's questions; what he urged them to believe or to do, his beautiful, deep sayings.
These an old saying: “The Bible, and the Bible only." Well, I want to bring that idea to a brighter point still: “Jesus, and Jesus only, the special teacher for Christians.”
There is not a church throughout the world that does not claim Jesus as its teacher. The real difficulty occurs when we come to the practical application of it.
Those four Gospel accounts of how he himself preached are sufficient in giving us Christianity as Jesus himself preached it.
A great deal of what passes for Christianity in the churches of the day will fail when tried by this test.
Always Jesus represents God as only wanting our repentance, waiting to forgive. There is never a word about the necessity of the penalty being paid; never a hint as to there being any hindrance to God's free mercy, except the hindrance of a hardness of heart.
I want to set before you the simple Gospel which Jesus Christ went about trying to persuade people to receive - the Gospel of love and practical righteousness.
Surely the very heart of it all, that which was the central light, was his sense of the infinite tenderness of God, and of the blessedness of living in His love, as His trustful and faithful children.
Just let us recall the manner of our Savior's ministry, how he went about, what he taught the people:
Blessings on the pure in heart, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, exhortations to a higher righteousness than that of the Law as set forth by the Scribes and Pharisees; teachings about brotherly love – “leave your gift before the altar, and go and make up with your brother;" not doing anything “to be seen by others;" about the quiet charity that should not let the left hand know what the right hand does; about patience, and kindness - enforced by reminding them of God's kindness to all of us.
And the passage, "Not everyone that says to me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven, but he that does the will of my Father in Heaven."
That sermon was what one may call the great proclamation of his ministry. Then, follow him in thought as he moves among the people, telling them of the priceless value of having the kingdom of God in their hearts.
And always he turns around from these thoughts of the Heavenly Father's love, to appeals for our loving duty! God's part was free, unpurchased love; our part He says is practical righteousness.
Never from his teachings could that false idea of righteousness be learned, which places opinions above conduct.
And it was not his teachings alone. These teachings were uttered in something nobler than word. The teaching was done into life.
And the Life was more powerful than the word, and so it is not merely “Christianity as Jesus preached it,” but “as Jesus lived it,” that stands for us in the Gospels.
The more I look upon that life of such sublime strength, holy love, and deep, living wisdom, the more I think of what Christianity was as Jesus preached it, and the more I feel how poor our faith in Him has become.
Place first a faith in those grand, simple teachings of God's love and our duty, and hold them up before the world with all the power of your speech and of your life.
(Adapted from an 1875 sermon by Rev. Brooke Herford 1830-1903)