Christianity without Christ
by Charles Hodge (1823-1886)
Originally published in the Princeton Review, April 1876 (Vol. 5, Issue 18).
The experience of one Christian is the experience of all. This is the conscious bond of their union. The hymns which live through all ages, are hymns of praise to Christ. All Protestants can join with St. Bernard, when he says: "Jesus, the very thought of Thee, With sweetness fills my breast; But sweeter far Thy face to see, And in Thy presence rest. When once Thou visitest the heart, Then light begins to shine, Then earthly vanities depart; Then kindles love divine. Jesus, our only joy be Thou, As Thou our prize shalt be; Jesus, be Thou our glory now, And through eternity." "JESUS, OUR BEING'S HOPE AND END." They can also join with that other Bernard, who says of heaven: "The Lamb is all thy splendor, The Crucified thy praise, His laud and benediction, His ransomed people raise." What is true of the Christianity of the mediaeval saints, is true of believers now. Toplady's hymn "Rock of Ages, cleft for me," finds a response in every Christian heart, So does his hymn... "Compared with Christ, in all besides, No comeliness I see; The one thing needful, clearest Lord, Is to be one with Thee." "Thyself bestow; for Thee alone, I absolutely pray." "Less than Thyself will not suffice, My comfort to restore: More than Thyself I cannot have; And Thou canst give no more." Cowper expresses the hopes and feelings of every believer in his hymn, "There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel's veins; And sinners Plunged beneath that flood, Lose all their guilty stains."
Every Christian can join with Newton in saying, "How sweet the name of Jesus sounds, In a believer's cars; It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds, And drives away his team. It makes the wounded spirit whole, And calms the troubled breast; 'Tis manna to the hungry soul, And to the weary rest." "He is a rock, a shield, a hiding-place, a never-failing treasury." "Jesus, my Shepherd, Husband, Friend, My Prophet, Priest, and King, My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End, Accept the praise I bring." "When I see Thee as Thou art, I'll praise Thee as I ought." In like manner, Keble makes Christ everything to the believer. "Sun of my soul, Thou Saviour dear, It is not night, if Thou be near." "Abide with me from morn to eve, For without Thee, I cannot. live; Abide with me when night is nigh; For without Thee, I dare not die." "Come near to bless-us when we wake, Ere through the world our way we take; Till, in the ocean of Thy love, We lose ourselves in heaven above."
Wesley's hymn, "Jesus, lover of my soul," is on the lips of every English- speaking Christian. All look up to him as a guide, as their refuge, their trust, their only source of strength, as their all, more than a1l — as the source of spiritual and eternal life. In another hymn he says: "I thirst, I pine, I die to prove, The wonders of redeeming love, The love of Christ to me. Thy only love do I require; Nothing on earth beneath desire, Nothing in heaven above. Let earth, and heaven, and all things go, Give me Thy only love to know, Give me Thy only love." Again, "Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing, My dear Redeemer's praise, The glories of my God and 'King, The triumphs of his grace," etc., etc. So Dr, Watts, "Dearest of all the names above, My Jesus and my God." "Till God in human flesh I see, My thoughts no comfort find." "But, if Immanuel's face appear, My hope, my joy begins." "Jesus, my God, Thy blood alone, Has power sufficient to atone; Thy blood can make me white as snow; No Jewish type could cleanse me so." 'To the dear fountain of Thy blood, Incarnate God I fly, There let me wash my guilty soul From sins of deepest dye." "A guilty, weak, and helpless worm, On Thy kind arms I fail, Be Thou my strength and righteousness, My Jesus and my all." Volumes might be filled with such proofs of what Christianity is in the hearts of Christians. It will be observed, it is not mainly Christ as a teacher, as an example, nor even as the expiator of our sins — it is not mainly what He has done that is rendered thus prominent; but what He is. He is God clothed in our nature, ever with 'us, ever in us — our life, our present joy, our everlasting portion; the one to whom we owe everything, from whom we derive everything, who loves us with a love that is peculiar, exclusive (that is, such a, he entertains for no other class of beings), and unspeakable.
In painful contrast with the Christianity of the Bible and of the church, there is a kind of religion, very prevalent and very influential, calling itself Christianity, which may be properly designated Christianity without Christ. It might be all that it is, though Christ had never appeared, or, at least, although our relation to him were entirely different from what it really is.
The lowest form of this kind of religion is that which assumes Christ to be a mere man, or, at most, merely a creature. Then, of course, He cannot be an object of adoration, of supreme love, of trust, and of devotion. The difference is absolute between the inward religious state of those who regard Christ as a creature, and that of those who regard him as God. If the one be true religion, the other is impiety.
It The second form of this religion admits of higher views of the person of Christ, but it reduces Christianity to. benevolence. And by benevolence is often meant nothing more than philanthropy. The gospel is made to consist in the inculcation of the command, Love your neighbor as yourself. All who approximately do this are called Christians. Hence it is mid, that if all records concerning Christ should be blotted out of existence, his religion could be evolved out of our own nature.
And hence, too, an avowed atheist is told, that if he sits up all night with a sick child, he is a Christian, whatever he may think. A popular poem — popular because of the sentiment which it teaches — represents the recording angel as placing at the head of those who love God, the name of the man who could only say; "Write me as one who loves my fellow-men." The love of our fellow-men is thus made the highest form of religion. This is below even natural religion. It ignores God as well as Christ. Yet this is the doctrine which we find, variously sugared over and combined, in poetry, in novels, in magazines, and even in religious journals.