Christianity Without Christ
by Charles Hodge (1823-1886)
In one sense of the word, Christianity is the system of truth taught by Christ and his apostles. In this sense the question, what is Christianity? is simply a historical one. It may be answered intelligently and correctly by a man who does not profess to be a Christian, just as he may answer the question, what is Brahmism? or, what is Buddhism?
In another sense, Christianity is that state of one's mind produced by faith in the truths revealed concerning Christ. In this sense, Christianity without Christ is an impossibility. It would be an effect without its proximate cause. Nevertheless, there is a form of religion, widespread and influential, which is called Christianity, in which Christ fails to occupy the position assigned to him in the Bible.
The Bible teaches us, that the same divine person by whom God for whom the universe was created, is the Jehovah of the Old Testament and the Jesus of the New. And as natural religion (in the subjective sense of the word) is that state of mind which is, or should be, produced by the revelation of God in the works of nature, and by our relation to him as his rational creatures; and as the religion of the devout Hebrew consisted in the state of mind produced by the revelation of the same God, made in the law and the prophets, and by their relation to him as their covenant God and Father; so Christianity is that state of mind produced by the knowledge of the same God, as manifest in the flesh, who loved us and gave himself for us, and by our relation to him as the subjects of his redemption.
Three things follow from this: first, as the same divine person is the Creator of heaven and Earth, the Jehovah of the Old Testament and the Jesus of the New, there can be no inconsistency between the religion of nature, the religion of the Hebrews, and the religion of Christians. The one does not assume that to be true, which either of the others assumes to be false. The only difference is that which arises from increased knowledge of the object of worship, and the new relations which we sustain to him. The Hebrews, in worshiping Jehovah did not cease to worship the God of nature; and the Christian, in worshiping Christ, does not cease to worship the God of the Hebrews.
Second, it is impossible that the higher form of religion should be merged into a lower. It is impossble that the religion of a Hebrew should sink into natural religion. That would imply that he ceased to be a Hebrew, that he rejected the revelations of Moses and the prophets, and that he renounced his allegiance to Jehovah as the God of his fathers. In like manner, it is impossible that the religion of a Christian can sink into that of the Old Testament, or into that of nature. That would imply that he ceased to be a Christian; that he rejected or ignored all that the New Testament reveals concerning God and Christ. There could be no true religion in the mind of a Hebrew that was not determined by his relation to Jehovah as his covenant God; and there can be no true religion in the mind of a Christian that is not determined by his relation to Christ as God manifested in the flesh.
Third, the Christian, in worshiping Christ, does not cease to worship the Father and the Spirit. He does not fail to recognize and appreciate his relation to the Father, who loved the world and gave his Son for its redemption; nor does he fail to recognize his relation to the Holy Spirit, on whom he is absolutely dependent, and whose gracious office it is to apply to men the redemption purchased by Christ. In worshiping Christ, we worship the Father and the Spirit; for these three are one — one only living and true God, the same in substance and equal in power and glory. Christ says, I am in the Father and the Father in me. I and the Father are one. He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father; and therefore, he that worships the Son, worships the Father. Hence, it is written, "Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father," but, "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God." "He that hath the Son hath life; he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life." It is to be remembered, however, that in the mysterious constitution of the Godhead, the second person of the Trinity is the Logos, the Word, the Revealer. It is through him that God is known. He is the brightness of his glory, revealing what God is. We should not know that there is a sun in the firmament, if it were not for his (apaugasma). So we should not know that God is, or what he is, were it not for his Son. "No man knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son shall reveal him." In having Christ, therefore, we have God; for in him dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead.
It does not need to be proved that Jehovah was the God of the Hebrews; the object of their worship, of their love, gratitude, and trust. They recognized him as their absolute and rightful sovereign, whose authority extended over their inward As well as their outward life. On him they were dependent, .And to him they were responsible. His favor was their life, and they could say, "Whom have we in heaven but thee, and there is none on earth we desire beside thee."
As little does it require proof that Christ is the God of Christians. In the New Testament all divine titles are given to him. He is called God, the true God, the great God, God over all, Jehovah. He is declared to be almighty, omnipresent, immutable, and eternal. He created heaven and earth; all things visible and invisible were made by him and for him, and by him all things consist. He upholds all things by the word of his power. This divine person became flesh; he was found in fashion as a man, and in the form of a servant. Having been born of a woman, he was made under the law, and fulfilled all righteousness. He redeemed us from the come of the law by .being made a come for us. He bore our sins in his own body ,on the tree. He died the just for the unjust, to bring us unto God, and having died for our offenses, and risen again for our .justification, has ascended to heaven, where lie is seated on the right hand of God, all power in heaven and earth being committed to his hands, and where he ever lives to make intercession for his people. This Christ, God and man, in two distinct natures and one person forever, was to the writers of the New Testament all and in all. He was; their wisdom; from him they derived all their knowledge of divine things, and to his teaching they implicitly submitted. He was their righteousness; renouncing all dependence on their own righteousness, they trusted exclusively on the merit of his obedience and death for their acceptance with God. He was their sanctification. Their spiritual life was derived from him and sustained by him. They were in him as the branch is in the vine, or the members in the body, so that it was not they who lived, but Christ who lived in them. Without him they could do nothing; they could no more bring forth the fruits of holy living separated from him than a branch can bear fruit when separated from the vine, nor than the body can live when separated from the head. They felt themselves to be in him in such a sense, that what he did, they did. They died with him. They rose with him. What he is, they become. What he has, they receive, all in their measure — that is, as much as they can hold. They are filled with the fullness of God in Him.
This being so, it follows, of course, that Christ was to them the object of divine worship and of all the religious affections, of adoration, of supreme love, of trust, of submission, of devotion He was their absolute sovereign and proprietor by the double right of creation and redemption. Love to him was the motive, his Will the rule, his glory the end of their obedience. it It was Christ for them to live. Living or dying, they were the Lord's. They enforced all moral duties out of regard to him; wives were to obey their husbands, children their parents, servants their masters, for Christ's sake. Christians were commanded not to utter a contaminating word in a brother's ear because he belonged to Christ; they endeavored to preserve their personal purity, because their bodies were the members of Christ. The blessedness of heaven in their view consisted in being with Christ, in beholding his glory, enjoying his love, in being like him, and in being devoted to his services. It is a simple fact, that such was the Christianity of the writers of the New Testament Their religious life terminated on Christ, and was determined by their relation to him. He was their God, their Saviour, their prophet, priest, and king; they depended on his righteousness for their justification; they looked to him for sanctification. He was their life, their way, their end. If they lived, it was for him; if they died, it was that they might be with him. They did not attempt to reform or to save me, on the principles of natural religion, or by a process of moral culture. These had their place, but they are inadequate and absorbed in a higher moral power. Paul, in writing to Titus, speaking of Christians before their conversion, says: "They were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving diverse lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating me another. But after the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy, he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that, being justified by grace, we should be heirs according to the promise, of eternal life." They, therefore, labored for the reformation and salvation of men, by going everywhere preaching Christ as the only Saviour from sin.
What Christianity was in the hearts of the apostles, it has been in the hearts of Christians of all ages, and in all parts of the world. Of this, every Christian has the evidence in his own experience. Christ is to him both God and man-God manifest in the flesh; God surrounded by the rainbow of humanity, which softens, diversifies, and beautifies his rays. Christ he worships, trusts, loves, and obey,. Christ is his wisdom, his righteousness, his sanctification, his redemption. Christ is ever near him, so that he can be spoken to, appealed to, and communed with; a present help in every time of needChrist is the Christian's portion for time and for eternity. With Christ he has everything, and without him he has nothing.
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, al. though 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.
The doctrine which makes benevolence, the desire or purpose to promote the happiness not of our fellow-men merely, but of being in general, or all beings, logically, and often actually, results essentially in the same thing. All religion, all moral excellence consists in benevolence, Our only obligation is so to act as to promote the greatest good. This is the motive and the end of obedience. According to the New Testament, the motive to obedience is the love of Christ, the rule of obedience is the will of Christ, and its end the glory of Christ. Every Christian is benevolent; but his benevolence does not make him a Christian; his Christianity makes him benevolent. Throughout all ages the men who have labored most and suffered most for the good of others, have been Christians — men animated and controlled by Christ's love to them, and by their love to Christ. It is evident that the spiritual life — the inward religious state — of the man to whom it is Christ to live, is very different from that of the man who lives for the happiness of the universe. A man might thus live if there were no Christ.
Another form of religion in which Christ fails to occupy his proper position, is that which assumes God to be merely a moral governor, of infinite power and benevolence. Being infinitely benevolent, he desires the well being of his kingdom. To forgive sin without some suitable manifestation of his disapprobation of sin, would be inconsistent with a wise benevolence. Christ makes that manifestation in his sufferings and death. Then he retires; henceforth we have nothing to do with him; we have to deal with God on the principles of natural religion; we must submit to his authority, obey his commandments, and expect to be rewarded, not merely according to, but for, our works. Christ merits nothing for us, we are not to look to him for sanctification, or any other blessing. All he has done, or does, is to make it consistent with the benevolence of God to forgive sin. Forgiveness of sin, therefore, is the only benefit which God bestows on us on account of Christ.
This theory changes everything. Men me rebellious subjects. It is now consistent in God to forgive them. He calls on them to submit, to lay down their arms, then he is free to deal with them as though they had never sinned. They must merit, not forgiveness — for that is granted on account of what Christ has done — but the reward promised to obedience; justification is simply pardon. Conversion is that change which takes place in a man when he ceases to be selfish, and becomes benevolent; ceases making his own happiness the end of his life, and determines to seek the happiness of the universe. The essence of faith is love, i.e., benevolence. It is hard to see, according to this theory, in what sense Christ is our prophet, priest, and king; how He is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; what is meant by our being in him as the branch is in the vine; or, what our Lord meant when He said, "without me, ye can do nothing;" what was in Paul's mind when he said, it is Christ for me to live, "it is not I that live, but Christ liveth in me," and so on to the end. This is a different kind of religion from that which we find in the Bible and in the experience of the church. As the religion (in the subjective sense of the word) is different, so is the preaching different, and so are the modes of dealing with sinners, and of promoting reformation among men. Some go so far as to hold, that there can be morality without religion; men are exhorted to be moral bemuse it is right, because it will promote their own welfare, and make them respected and useful. They we to become morally good by a process of moral culture, by suppressing evil feelings and cherishing such as are good ones, by abstaining from what is wrong and doing what is right.
Others take the higher ground of theism, or of natural religion, and bring in considerations drawn from our relation to God as an infinitely perfect being, our creator and preserver and father, who has rightful authority over us, who has prescribed the rule of duty, and who rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked.
All this is true and good in its place. But it is like persuading the blind to see and the deaf to hew. This is not the gospel. Christ is the only Saviour from sin, the only source of holiness, or of spiritual life. The first step in salvation from sin is our reconciliation to God. The reconciliation is effected by the expiation made by the death of Christ (Rom. 5:10). It is his blood, and his blood alone, that cleanses from sin. As long as men arc under the law, they bring forth fruit unto death; it is only when freed from the law, freed from its inexorable demand of perfect obedience and from its awful penalty, that they bring forth fruit unto God (Rom. 7:4-6). Christ delivered us from the law as demanding perfect obedience, by being made under the law, and fulfilling all righteousness for us; and he redeems us from the curse of the law, by being made a curse for us — dying the just for the unjust, and bearing our sins in his own body on the tree. Being thus reconciled unto God by his death, we are saved by his life. He sends the Holy Spirit to impart to us spiritual life, and transforms us more and more into his own image. The Spirit reveals to us the glory of Christ and his infinite love. He makes us feel not only that we owe everything to him, but that he himself is everything to us — our present joy and our everlasting portion — our all in all. Thus every other motive to obedience is absorbed and sublimated into love to Christ and zeal for his glory. His people become like him, and as he went about doing good, so do they. All this of course, is folly to the Greek. God, however, has determined by the foolishness of preaching to save them who believe. Pulmonary consumption is more destructive of human life than the plague. So Christianity without Christ, in all its forms, the phthisis of the church, is more to be dreaded than skepticism, whether scientific or philosophical. The only remedy is preaching Christ, as did the apostles.
Two important facts are to be home in mind. First, the inward religious life of men, as well as their character. and conduct, am determined by their doctrinal opinions. Even the Edinburgh Review, years ago, said, "The character of an age is determined by the theology of that age." Therefore, any system of doctrine which assigns to Christ a lower position than that which he occupies in the New Testament, must, in a like degree, lower the standard of Christianity — that is, the religious life of those calling themselves Christians. Second, nevertheless, it is equally true that men are more governed by their practical than by their speculative convictions. The idealist does not feel and act on his belief that the external world has no real existence. In like manner, the religious life of men is often determined more by the plain teaching of the Scriptures and by the common faith of the church than by their theological theories. Hence, men have often more of Christ in their religion than in their theology. It is, however, of the last importance to remember, that sound doctrine is, under God, our only security for true religion and pure morals. If we forsake the truth, God forsakes us.