Christianity is Christ. Christianity is not a theory about Christ; it is not a series of ethical statements proceeding from Christ; it is not a system builded upon the concepts of Christ—Christianity is Christ.
Christianity is not a cold, dead organization, it is a living organism, and it could not survive the loss of Christ, its living, vital Head, any more than a human body could survive the loss of its head. Herein lies the chief distinction between Christianity and all world-religions. Buddhism survived the loss of Buddha; Confucianism has thrived since the departure of Confucius; Mohammedanism almost profited by the death of Mohammed; Christian Science could spare Mrs. Eddy and Russellism could spare Russel, but Christianity is wholly dependent upon the risen, ascended and seated Lord. The One Who was, and Who is, and Who is coming—the Living One, is inseparable from the Christian's faith.
Christianity can no more be compared with other cults, than Jesus Christ can be compared with other persons. Christ is the incomparable One; He stands as far above men as the heavens are above the earth. So also is Christianity incomparable. It stands on a plane as far removed from the plane of human religions as the east is removed from the west.
The Word of God is the basis of Christianity. That Word is Christ. From Genesis through Revelation the Scriptures present the Lord Jesus. On the Emmaus road Christ began with Moses and in the Prophets and in the Psalms He opened up the things concerning Himself.
The whole plan of salvation is summed up in Christ. God wrought out our redemption and obtained for us our pardon, in Christ. God works out our sanctification, a life of yielded victory, by Christ in, and God will work out our glorification with Christ, when He comes back to receive us unto Himself.
Thus, in Christianity, whether in salvation from sin's curse, or in salvation from sin's power, or in salvation from sin's presence, it is all made possible in and through Christ. It is Christ on the Cross, or else it is Christ at the Father's right hand, or else it is Christ coming in the clouds of Heaven. It is always Christ.
There is no place in Christianity, whether in salvation, in service or in the daily walk that the believer can press his way apart from Christ.
Even in the line of ethics, the ethics of Christianity are incomparably higher than the ethics of other religions. Their ethics are possible of attainment, the ethics of Christ are impossible—that is, the latter are impossible apart from the Christ Who gave them. No one can, for instance, live the life outlined in the beatitudes or, the life outlined in the Book of Philippians, apart from the indwelling and the empowering Christ.
In Christianity, wherever one may turn, Christ is the inevitable One. He is forever inseparable from the faith once for all delivered. Apart from Him all is loss; apart from Him there is darkness and there is death. In Him all is gain; in Him is light; in Him is life and in Him all things consist. Let us now consider our first suggestion:
"We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord" (II Cor. 4:5).
The god of this world cares but little when we preach ourselves, but he will busy himself to blind the eyes of the unbelieving against the preaching of the glorious Gospel of Christ. The only headway we can make against satan is by the preaching of Christ. Let us follow out some of the passages, particularly in the Book of Acts, which will help us just here.
1. The Person of Christ was the message of the prophets of old. Acts 3:20: "And He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you."
Jesus Christ stands forth supreme in the preaching of the valiant men who told God forth in the days before Christ came to earth.
Those men spoke as they were borne along by the Holy Ghost, and many are the precious truths that they revealed concerning the person, the life, the death, the resurrection, the return and the reign of Christ.
2. The Person of Christ was the message of the Apostles. Acts 5:42: "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ."
The Apostles had lived with Christ; they had heard His Word. They believed in Him as the Son of God. They had seen Him die, and they had seen Him frequently after His resurrection. They had stood on the crest of Olivet as He ascended and a cloud received Him out of sight.
After the coming of the Spirit, they went everywhere preaching Christ. With great power they gave witness to His Deity, His death, His resurrection and His return. They preached Christ.
The Apostle Paul came along a little later and immediately He preached Christ, that He was the Son of God. Paul might have preached many other matters. He had been educated at Gamaliel's feet. He knew Jewish lore. He could easily have discoursed upon a more popular theme, but he preached Christ and only Christ.
3. The Person of Christ was the message for the Jew. Acts 17:1-3: "Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Appollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: and Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath Days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, Whom I preach unto you, is Christ."
It was not the message they wanted, for they hated Christ. The Apostle would have found a few soulful remarks on ethics, or a few suggestive hints on economics, or a few striking sentences on the political tyranny of the Cæsars, might have brought far greater applause. But the Jew needed Christ and that is what he heard from the ministers of the early Church.
4. The Person of Christ was the message preached to the Samaritans. Acts 8:5: "Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them."
Of course, Philip was not near up to the standard of the twentieth century preacher, or else he would have discoursed on "wealth and wages," or on "how to keep John Barleycorn dead after he has died," or some other theme of public interest. But Philip preached Christ. He felt that the Samaritans needed Christ.
5. The Person of Christ was the message preached to the Gentiles. Gal. 1:16: "To reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood."
Paul was called to preach the Gospel far hence to the Gentiles. Immediately he obeyed. He did not argue that the message that the Jew and Samaritan received was not applicable to the Gentile. He did not insist that the message should be recast and molded differently for the cultured ears of the Athenians or the Thessalonians or the Bereans. He just preached Christ.
The message for one was the message for all. There was no other name given under Heaven and among men whereby we must be saved, so the preachers of the early days preached Christ.
6. The Person of Christ is the message we are commanded to preach to-day. He said unto them, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15).
The preacher is a servant and an apostle "separated unto the Gospel of God, * * concerning His Son Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:1-3).
The Church is the pillar and the ground of the truth. It is the guardian of the faith. It is commissioned to preach Christ; nothing less than Christ, and nothing more than Christ.
7. God's anathema is upon those who preach any other gospel. What did the Holy Spirit say through Paul? Galatians 1:6-9: "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the Gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from Heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."
These are solemn words. Every false witness is anathematized. No favoritism is permitted! The Apostle is himself included in, "Though WE." Angelic hosts are included in, "Or an angel from Heaven." Every man, every minister of whatsoever cult, is included in, "If any one."
And what is the Gospel which Paul preached? The Spirit makes reply: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." Then the rest of that wonderful 15th chapter of I Corinthians is given particularly to the resurrection of the Christian dead, at the return of Christ.
"If any man preach any other gospel * * let him be accursed," means then, if any man preaches any gospel which ignores or defames the Cross, the resurrection, or the Lord's return, let him be accursed.
Paul said concerning himself, "Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel." The emphasis may be placed on the verb, "preach," or, it may be placed upon the object, "Gospel."
What then of the one who confesseth not that Jesus Christ is God, come in the flesh? What then of the one who confesses not that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh? In either case, such an one is a deceiver and an antichrist. Such preachers are of the world, and the world heareth them. Such preachers are possessed with the spirit of error. (Study carefully I John 4:1-6 and II John 1:7, R. V.)
What must be the attitude of true disciples toward these false prophets, these antichrists? Let God speak: II John 1:9-11: "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds."
These words are final. The believer has no right to sit under the ministry of one who has departed from the faith; he cannot receive him into his house; he cannot bid him God speed. This is not a matter of one denomination pitted against another; it is a matter of all true believers separating themselves from the apostates who deny the faith, wherever and whenever such apostates are found.
8. Is the Person, of Christ the theme of the pulpit to-day? Thank God, in many places, yes. There are, everywhere, those who proclaim the true evangel. There are, however, in too many pulpits those who proclaim a false gospel, or no gospel at all.
In a paper received recently from London, we found this list of subjects advertised in and around that great metropolis: "Slip, Slips and Slippers," "Wobbling," "Swat the Fly," "The Honeymoon," "My Mother-in-Law," "Lopsided Folks," "The Sentimental Journey," "Three White Mice," "Pulling Out a Plum," "A Big Hug," "Street Car Ventilation," "A Joke on the Conductor," "A Man with His Nose Out of Joint." Such themes are sickening to the heart. Yet the same state of affairs exists, more or less everywhere. From our soul we cry, "Back to the Person of Christ as our preaching!"
"The zeal of Thine House hath eaten Me up" (John 2-17).
No one would deny that our Lord Jesus carried in His bosom a burning and a yearning after the sons of men. He was consumed with a passion for souls that ate into His very heart. He loved even unto the death. His passion for the lost and His compassion for His own, told on His physical frame. Even those who had known Him in the village where He had been brought up, mistook His age. They said: "Thou art not fifty years old," when, in fact, He was not more than thirty and three.
How many of us appear far beyond our natural years because of our "burning out" for God? Not very many, to be sure.
It will pay us to stop long enough to mark some of the scenes which describe the compassionate Christ.
1. His compassion, on the multitude. Matthew 14:14: "And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and He healed their sick."
"Compassion" is a strong word. It carries with it the thought of "a yearning in the bowels." That is, our Lord was stirred within, until something akin to nausea caught hold upon Him.
Herein lies, perhaps, the greatest need of the orthodox. To preach the Person of Christ is right, but to preach the Person of Christ in a doctrinally precise way is not enough. We must preach with all the tender mercies of Christ, with all His "bowels of mercy."
The multitudes are lying everywhere around us. Do we send them away that they may get victuals for themselves; or do we bid them to sit down on the ground that we may feed them?
The angel with the inkhorn was commanded to place a mark on every one who sighed and upon every one who cried for the abominations done in the midst of Jerusalem. Another angel was to slay utterly those who bore not the mark, and he was to begin at the House of God (see Ezek. 9).
What would happen should such a course be pursued to-day? Where is our old-time passion and compassion for the lost? Where are those who weep and wail over the sad estate of the lost?
2. His compassion over the leper. Mark 1:41: "And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth His hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean."
The leper was accursed in Israel. His place was outside the camp. None should touch him. He continually had to cry, "Unclean! unclean!" Jesus Christ came along the way, and met a leper. He had compassion on him. He put forth His hand and touched him, and said, "I will; be thou clean."
Here again is the need of the church. We must not enter into tirades of abuse against the morally corrupt, we must not isolate them from our place of preaching, we must not damn them to utter neglect. We must have pity, we must open unto them our hearts, and yearningly carry to them the story of the power of Christ to save.
We must love them as Christ loved Mary Magdalene. We must stand ready to forgive as Christ forgave the repentant woman who had been taken in sin. We must reach out our hand, and touch them, we must give rein to our affections and love them.
3. His compassion on the assaulted Jew. Luke 10:33: "But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him."
Only a parable, you say. Indeed! Yet a parable with a message of love and compassion that must not be overlooked. What a picture! A poor fellow, a despised Jew, robbed and beaten and left in the depth of despair.
What is the common attitude in such a case? It is that of the priest who merely "saw, and passed by on the other side." It is that of the Levite who "came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side."
What was and is the attitude of Christ? He is the "Good Samaritan" in this parable. He saw him, and had compassion and went to him, and bound up his wounds, and poured in oil and wine, and set him on his beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
Let not the social worker arise and claim himself as the one who fulfils the need of this stricken Jew. Far from it. Americanization, social work and general physical and mental help is not enough to meet this need.
What is the real message of this parable? First, it is a revelation of the heart of Christ toward the bruised and fallen. Secondly, it is a rebuke at the cold formalism of a heartless orthodoxy.
But that is not all. The method of help is also set forth. What does the wounded Jew need? Roses and poses? No. A new and better system of policing the roads? No. Such methods are covers too short and beds too narrow with which a man may cover himself and upon which a man may stretch himself.
What is needed? (1) A heart burning with the "bowels of mercies," like that which consumed the Lord. (2) The binding up of the wounds through the message of atoning Blood and abounding grace. (3) The pouring in of the oil and the wine of the Holy Ghost. (4) The personal leadership and mighty shoulders of the risen Christ. (5) The care and succor of His Father's House. Nothing less than this will meet His need.
4. His compassion on the prodigal son. Luke 15:20: "And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him."
Until the church has learned what it is to watch with longings for the prodigal's return and what it is to "run" with God to meet him, and to fall on his neck and kiss him, it will never be in condition to preach the glories of the Person of Christ.
To stay at home, and to live separated from harlots and from the far country is not enough. The elder son did that. The elder son had a good dose of religion, but he knew nothing of the Father's heart. He had no passion and no compassion. He had no desire to run out to meet the returning and repentant younger brother; he would not fall on his neck and kiss him.
What the church needs, what you need, what I need, is the spirit that consumed the Lord Jesus Christ when He stood over Jerusalem and wept. Preach on hell? Certainly. Never were such woes preached as our Lord Himself preached in Matthew 23. But preach on hell with the same broken spirit that was in Christ when He said: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" (Matt. 23:37).
What the church needs is a love that will not let her go. A passion for souls that robs her of "ease" and pulls her to her knees. Then and only then can the church be fully blessed in holding forth the Word of Light and of Life.