Christianity itself, in its one outstanding characteristic, is immeasurably more than the humanitarianism it initiates and keeps going. Its singular outstanding trait is its supernatural power, found nowhere else. It does what no other does or can do. It stands solitary and alone in this.
And, and, are you listening with your inner ears? And, if and when, it loses this, in our understanding and our teaching of it, the essence is gone.
The fragrance is here; the rose is gone. What fragrance there is, is what lingers from past contact with the real thing. How long will it linger with its source cut off?
If and when our Christianity becomes a code of ethics merely, a culture and only that, a teaching and philosophy and nothing more, a blessed humanitarianism and bettering of outer conditions of life, and that simply, the distinctive trait has gone.
The rose is severed from the fragrance. The life has gone out of the body, even with some colour in the cheek, and some muscular movements in the limbs.
The tendrils are severed from the life-giving roots. The Christian religion has been dragged down to the level of mere man-made religion, so far as the leaders can do that.
All these other things, so blessed in themselves, are mere by-products of Christianity, incidentals. One had almost said, trifling incidentals, by comparison, though so invaluable in themselves.
Christianity is distinctively, idiomatically, a thing of power, supernatural power, God's own direct touch through human natural channels. The lustful man is made pure. The slave of evil habit is set free.
The thief becomes honest. The trifler becomes earnest, in the hard grip of a noble purpose. The drunkard is sobered, and stays sober. The demon-tortured man knows sweet peace. The diseased is made perfectly whole.
Where there had been a man in the house, now there's a loving husband, and a thoughtful father, in a home. And the shop or store, the neighbourhood, the community, the nation, each knows a radical difference, a new personality, strong, gentle, pervasive, insistent.
The religion of the solitary God-Man who died, and then revealed unprecedented and unparalleled power, uncopyable by others, in emptying that new-hewn tomb of rock, it is a religion of supernatural power. It is a power unexplainable except by taking God into account.
It makes changes in man. It changes things at the core. Then all becomes changed. All history and all observation and all experience make clear enough that those changes can't be made by any other than Christ Himself. But Christ does. He only can. Christianity is distinctively a religion of supernatural power.
The one purpose of foreign missionary activity is to carry this message of the Christ, to our racial kinsmen across the sea who haven't heard. It is distinctively the message of a Christ who died as none other did, nor could, nor can, and then lived again through supernatural power, and still lives, with that same supernatural power available today to purify the heart, transform the life, and meet every common need.
This was the one burning passion and purpose of the early missionary activity, and still is, where the Christ spirit sways. It burns so hotly and grips so strongly that all else seems the merest incidental.
There is an "else." There are incidentals. There are humanitarian activities immeasurably valuable and sorely needed. There are some things worked out by Western science that will alleviate living conditions over yonder. And that sort of thing is surely sorely needed. Yet there needs to be discrimination. And wise discrimination sometimes seems scarce.
It is no part of the Christian missionary scheme to transplant Western civilization into Oriental lands. The Orient has a culture of its own, that even some of us Occidentals think fully equal to the best true Western culture, at least, and in some things distinctly superior.
If our missionary activity become a mere transplanting of certain features of the Western hemisphere to Eastern and sub-equatorial lands, it at once loses its distinctive historical Christian characteristic. The essence has gone.
If the door opened with such sacrifice by the early heroic missionaries becomes an entrance for some common features of our Western civilization, if it become a means of spreading Western skepticism and doubt under Christian phraseology, it is surely the Devil using that door. Such use makes the door a distinct curse, so far.
The motive for such sacrifice as the true Christian missionary gladly makes, though it takes his life's blood slowly given out, that motive is quite gone.
The true Christian message lived and taught on foreign-mission soil, in the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, will work out certain results.
Out of it will grow naturally the true Christian culture. And out of that will grow the mental regeneration that will affect daily life and conditions. And our racial brothers yonder will be distinctly better off with none other, except some products of Western science already alluded to.
Nowhere is the distinctively supernatural power of Christ revealed more than in this, that men's bodies are healed. It was so in Christ's day on earth. It was so in the early Church days. It is so today. Christ is still and ever the same.
Of course, there is opposition to such a Christ, and to such a religion. It was marked in Christ's day. It was bitter, incorrigible, malicious, and at last murderous.