Chapter 4 - The Honour of His Name - Christianised Rationalism and the "New Theology."

Chapter 4 - The Honour of His Name

IT is the peculiar circumstances of our own times that give both point and urgency to the appeal and protest of the present volume. And this consideration may weigh with any who might well resent our seeming to cast a slur upon the writings of devout and spiritual men in days when infidelity stood far apart from the Christian camp. An infidel paper lately boasted that everything for which Tom Paine was persecuted is openly preached today in Christian pulpits by the descendants of the men who persecuted him. It is all too true. And the coarse profanity of the "New Theology" is not so dangerous as the promulgation of its blasphemies by men of culture and gentlemanly feeling.
To illustrate my words I give the following extracts from a sermon preached on Christmas Day in one of the most prominent of our London churches. And I do so, not to pillory a particular ecclesiastic, but to indicate what is now being taught in some of our theological colleges, and preached from numberless pulpits throughout the land.
'The birth narratives, which were included in the First and Third of the Synoptic Gospels, did not appear to belong to the oldest tradition about our Saviour. . . . The gospel which the Apostles preached did not include any story of the birth of Jesus. These birth narratives stood apart with no clearly perceptible relation to the rest of the New Testament. . . The Christians of the second century were not capable of applying to the mingled traditions which they had received from the Apostolic age those laws of evidence which had now received the adhesion of historical students the divineness of Jesus did not at the first, and need not now, consist of a dogma as to His miraculous birth."
This will suffice to indicate the import of the sermon, namely the denial of 'the virgin birth.' The objection that the Apostles' preaching did not include that truth is extraordinary. The Resurrection was a public fact to which the Apostles could appeal, and of which they were the accredited witnesses But to most of us the suggestion that they should in the same way have given their personal testimony to the virginity of Mary is grotesquely absurd. If, as is implicitly asserted in the sermon, that basal fact-a fact from which the truth of the Incarnation is inseparable-be not fact at all, but fiction, the Nazarene may still claim our homage as the best and noblest of men, but to worship him as divine is to brand ourselves as idolaters and fools. In support of his heresy the preacher appealed to "the laws of evidence." The laws of evidence had better be left to those who have practical experience of them. Unless the Gospel narratives be utterly unreliable and worthless even as human records, it is as certain as human testimony can make it that Mary's firstborn was not her husband's child. And that this was a matter of common knowledge with the Jews, witness the taunt by which they met the Lord's refusal to acknowledge them as being true children of Abraham. If therefore the Nazarene was not the Son of God in the sense which the Christian faith maintains, he was an outcast of that wretched class to whom the divine law denied the right of citizenship in the Commonwealth of Israel. And if the story of the "virgin birth" be fiction, the infidel may reasonably hold that it was invented to screen the shameful circumstances of his origin.
And if the Nazarene was not the Son of God, the Lord of Glory, what becomes of the Atonement? Well may we exclaim-

"The tree of knowledge now
Yields its last ripest fruit!
The blind now lead the blind,
Man has become as God!

The Cross is growing old,
And the great Sepulchre
Is but a Hebrew tomb!
The Christ has died in vain!

The Christ of ages past
Is now the Christ no more!
Altar and fire are gone,
The Victim but a dream!"

"The Lord of Glory"- it is one of His divinely given titles. As the inspired Apostle writes, the world leaders, being ignorant of the hidden wisdom of God, "crucified the Lord of Glory." But if the Christianised sceptic be right, the man they crucified was the son of a Jew, who profanely claimed Divine honour. And in putting him to death they were obeying one of the plainest commands of the Divine law.
What then, I repeat, becomes of the Atonement? The thorough-going infidel faces the question boldly, and demands, "What has the death of Jesus effected in the unseen, so as to make it possible for God to forgive us?" And here is his answer: "Nothing whatever, and nothing was ever needed." For "Jesus was the child of Joseph and Mary;" and "there is no such thing as punishment, no far-off Judgment Day, no great white throne, and no Judge external to ourselves."'
This is both consistent and intelligible. For no one whose mind is not blinded and warped by religious superstitions would tolerate the figment that the death of a Jewish mechanic's son could influence in any way our present relations with God, or our future destiny. The infidel stands by human reason. The Christian's faith rests upon a divine revelation. The one position is effectually as unassailable as the other. But
"With too much knowledge for the sceptic's side, With too much weakness for the stoic's pride,"
the Christianised sceptic "hangs between."
In quoting this Christmas sermon I have no wish to attack an individual. The preacher is an exceptionally distinguished representative of a large and daily growing class of accredited religious teachers who are using Christian pulpits to spread infidelity broadcast throughout the land. And therefore it is that I have cited him, my object being to strengthen the appeal I make to all spiritual Christians that, in face of the rapidly developing apostasy of the day, it behoves them to shun the prevailing habit of speaking of the Lord of Glory with a familiarity unwarranted by Scripture, and thus in their every mention of Him to give proof that they are of the number of those who own Him as LORD, and who "think upon His Name."
Having regard to the solemn declaration of unfeigned belief in Holy Scripture, required of every candidate for ordination, to the language of the Creed which a clergyman repeats continually, and to the doctrinal standards to which he publicly assents when entering on a benefice, sermons such as that above quoted seem to indicate that clerical morality is different from that which governs the conduct of honourable men in the City and the Clubs. Half a century ago such a sermon would have raised a wild storm of indignation; today it passes without notice.