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Christian Theory and Practice

I ask no organ's soulless breath To drone the themes of life and death, No altar-candle lit by day, No ornate wordsman's rhetoric-play, No cool philosophy to teach Its bland audacities of speech To double-tasked idolaters, No pulpit hammered by the fist Of loud-asserting dogmatist. God should be most where man is least. And still the measure of our needs Outgrows the cramping bounds of creeds.
—Whittier

There always has been more theoretical than practical Christianity in the world. . More time often has been spent trying to fathom the meaning of some obscure New Testament passage than in putting into practical effect plain statements enjoining upon us certain duties that will prove beneficial to mankind. Practical Christianity is the greatest need of the day. It is singular, to say the least, that the professed followers of the Christian religion should lay so much store on the things having no important bearing on the life of man, and lay so little stress on the great Master's sayings where their meanings cannot even be questioned. One is often filled with astonishment at the emphasis laid on the rigid observance and performance of certain rites and ceremonies when a very little study of the life of Jesus would show plainly how he viewed these things. His religion was one that if it did not utterly discard symbols, nevertheless laid little stress on them, deeming them non-essential to the growth of spiritual being; for, if there was any one thing that he took exception to, it was the customs of his times, which made so much of the performance and compliance to all external forms of religion whereby the spirit became lost in the letter.

Christianity should be judged by its effects upon the lives of people in benefiting and uplifting them rather than by the discussion of different modes of baptism or the condition of life in the hereafter. The hungry man is not so much interested in a theory as to how his hunger may be appeased in some future time or life as he is in having his immediate wants satisfied. Now, the religion of Jesus was a practical one that took into consideration the needs of the present, and showed how attention to present duties would bring the present reward. It was not through theorizing or simply believing, but it was being and doing that would bring the highest and best results.

It is a matter of doubt if Jesus would recognize what passes for his own religion should he return to earth. His Golden Rule looks very pretty as it is inscribed over church door or pulpit; but how often is it inscribed upon the hearts and in the minds of his followers? — "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them." There is more true Christ- religion in the observance of that one injunction than in the attention to every form and rite, or in the belief in every creed and dogma in Christendom; and yet, creed and rite usurp the place of the Golden Rule. Its practical value and its noble, grand truth are displaced to make room for theoretical knowledge.

"Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn thou not away." But we do turn away from these injunctions, saying that whatever might have been the case in the time of Jesus, these things are not practical now. If followed out, if lived up to, they would bring us to poverty and ruin. How little people realize the eternal laws of being when they make such statements; how little they realize that it is only through giving that they can hope to receive. This law of being applies to everything in the world. We must always be as willing to give as to receive, and we must as willingly receive as give. The law is not one-sided. Some people want to do all the giving: other people want to do all the receiving; both cases show unbalanced states of mind. Jesus fully understood the relationship that exists between individuals and the great body of humanity. He knew of a certainty that whatever retarded the growth and development of one class of people, had its effect upon all classes; that humanity was to be viewed as a grand whole, and that all parts must work in unison with one another; otherwise, the body would give evidence of weakness and imperfection. Those who are selfishly working for their own interests, regardless of the interests and needs of others, are certainly doing more to delay and impede their own progress to a higher development than any or all other factors in life they may conceive to be working against them.

The Golden Rule is not alone an injunction that should be binding upon us; it is something more than this. In it is contained the law — the Eternal Law of God; that is, if we would have others deal justly with us, it can only come through doing to them as we would be done by. But through selfish fears and desires we lose sight of our own real good when we take advantage of our brother's need. True motives and true desires are thrust aside to make room for the false. Material gain has ever the precedence of spiritual growth; our minds are too busy chasing the phantoms of life to pay any attention to a study of the realities or to take time to acquire a knowledge of them. Our religion is largely shadow-worship of the things seen, the things fleeting, the things that are changing, and that must eventually pass away. We know in our souls that we are dissatisfied, that we have an inexpressible longing for something, which, in our pursuit after the things of this life, we have not found; and so, we try to deceive ourselves by thinking that through greater wealth or successes in life this indefinable want will be satisfied. It will never be, however, until we take the only possible way open — the way that leads to eternal life and peace: the finding of Christ in our own souls, and then, through living the life of which Jesus, the Christ, was the greatest example. We find summed up in his life all the different qualities that had been acquired by those who had gone before. As the physical man is the epitome of all the animal kingdom, so Jesus is the summing up of all the spiritual development that had preceded him. He was the fullness, the completeness, of all that had gone before.

All the different Biblical characters had given evidence that they were lacking in something to make them whole and complete. In each of the great characters mentioned in the Old Testament, will be found some new development, or an awakening to possibilities before undreamed of — one phase of soul-development following another. It is an awakening or a resurrection in the soul, when Abraham perceives that God is one God; and with this perception comes faith. With Jesus came the knowledge that the only power to be recognized and obeyed is the Will of God made manifest in one's own soul. This was the crowning development in the progress of the soul.

Practical Christianity is not only a great need of the day, but the greatest; for through it must be solved the problems that are agitating the minds of all people. When men become tired of human experiments that give no satisfactory re- turn, and engender only bitterness and hate, then they will learn that only the eternal laws of right and justice can prevail, and that the Golden Rule is the true solution for all the differences that exist between man and man. In our country we see on every side, bodies of men arrayed against other bodies; one section of the country arrayed against another; one contending for one thing, one for another — selfish interests continually being put against universal good. Personal aggrandizement at the expense of the many, is, at present, one of the chief factors in life; and life, on one hand, is but a mad rush for wealth, and, on the other hand, is but a struggle for a physical existence. These two states are inseparable. Where you find one, you will certainly find the other. Needless accumulation by one begets poverty for another. There is an abundance for all in the world; but there is not enough to allow hoarding by some without causing want and suffering on the part of others. There is no greater responsibility attached to anything in life than to our use of the things that God has entrusted to our care. The things of this world were intended by the Creator to be as much for one soul as another. God brought everything into existence — the air we breathe, the water we drink, the fruits and cereals that we eat; and in their distribution the stronger should never seek to deprive the weaker of anything that rightly belongs to them, it simply being necessary to take this one thing into consideration: that each individual should do his reasonable share of work to entitle him to the same advantages. No one capable of working should ever expect to live on the product of others.
Viewed in the light of things that are occurring in our own country, and also in other so-called Christian countries, we see little in practice that gives expression to the gospel of Christ — that gospel breathing of peace and good-will to all men. Yet we pride ourselves on being a Christian nation, followers and defenders of the true faith. The peace and good-will for all men, shown in the gospel of Jesus, is still but a theory that is pleasant to talk about at certain times and seasons, but which is ruthlessly thrown aside when men's passions become inflamed. Even those claiming to be the living exponents of the teachings of the great Master, whose message was one of peace and good- will to all men, clamor for war and blood shed as is proved by reading many of our religious papers wherein they have demanded the annihilation of the ''unspeakable Turk” or at least that he should be driven out of Europe.

No, the need of the world is not theoretical Christianity, but practical Christianity. It is not the acceptance of the teachings of Jesus without any desire to express them, but it is the living them, being them, doing them that we need.

According to Lord Woolsey, the commander-in-chief of the British Army, Jesus would be a dangerous character in this age. Only the other day he said that the people who were trying to do away with all war through courts of arbitration were not only visionary, but they were actually dangerous to the countries in which they live. And this from the lips of one who claims to be a true follower of Jesus!

God grant that a time may come when the Golden Rule will not be applicable alone to individuals, but that its highest and truest application may be between nation and nation, when the love of peace shall forever shut out the passion for war and personal aggrandizement, when the knowledge and observance of the Divine Laws taught by Jesus, the Christ, shall become universal.

''Not mine the bigot's partial plea,
Nor Thine the zealot's ban;
Thou well canst spare a love of Thee
Which ends in hate of man.
"Our Friend, our Brother, and our Lord,
What may Thy service be?—
Nor name, nor form, nor ritual word.
But simply following Thee. "We bring no ghastly holocaust,
We pile no graven stone;
He serves Thee best who loveth most
His brothers and Thy own, ''Thy litanies, sweet offices
Of love and gratitude;
Thy sacramental liturgies,
The joy of doing good."

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Charles Brodie Patterson

  • Canadian New Thought author
  • Born in Nova Scotia in 1854 and died on June, 22nd 1917

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