Read LECTURE VIII of Oriental Religions and Christianity, free online book, by Frank F. Ellinwood, on ReadCentral.com.

INDIRECT TRIBUTES OF HEATHEN SYSTEMS TO THE DOCTRINES OF THE BIBLE

I am to speak of certain indirect tributes borne by the non-Christian religions to the doctrines of Christianity. One such tribute of great value we have already considered in the prevalence of early monotheism, so far corroborating the scriptural account of man’s first estate, and affording many proofs which corroborate the scriptural doctrine of human apostasy. Others of the same general bearing will now be considered. The history of man’s origin, the strange traditions of his fall by transgression and his banishment from Eden, of the conflict of good with evil represented by a serpent, of the Deluge and the dispersion of the human race, have all been the subjects of ridicule by anti-Christian writers: though by turns they have recognized these same facts and have used them as proofs that Christianity had borrowed them from old myths. The idea of sacrifice, or atonement, of Divine incarnation, of a trinity, of mediation, of a salvation by faith instead of one’s own merits, have been represented as unphilosophical, and therefore improbable in the nature of the case.

It becomes an important question, therefore, whether other religions of mankind show similar traditions, however widely they have dwelt apart, and however diversified their languages, literatures, and institutions may have been in other respects. And it is also an important question, whether even under heathen systems, the consciousness of sin and the deepest moral yearnings of men have found expression along the very lines which are represented by the Christian doctrines of grace. To these questions we now address ourselves. What are the lessons of the various ethnic traditions? And how are we to account for their striking similarities? The most obvious theory is, that a common origin must be assigned to them, that they are dim reminiscences of a real knowledge once clear and distinct. The fact that with their essential unity they differ from each other and differ from our Scriptural record, seems to rather strengthen the theory that all our own included have been handed down from the pre-Mosaic times ours being divinely edited by an inspired and infallible author. Their differences are such as might have been expected from separate transmissions, independently made.

We have, first of all, the various traditions of the Creation. In most heathen races there have appeared, in their later stages, grave and grotesque cosmogonies; and a too common impression is, that these represent the real teachings of their sacred books or their earliest traditions. But when one enters upon a careful study of the non-Christian religions, and traces them back to their sources, he finds more rational accounts of the Creation and the order of nature, and sees striking points of resemblance to the Mosaic record. The story of Genesis represents the “Beginning” as formless, chaotic, and dark. The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. The heavens and the earth were separated. Light appeared long before the sun and moon were visible, and the day and night were clearly defined. Creation proceeded in a certain order from vegetable to animal life, and from lower animals to higher, and last of all man appeared. In heathen systems we find fragments of this traditional account, and, as a rule, they are more or less clear in proportion to their nearness to, or departure from, the great cradle of the human race. Thus Professor Rawlinson quotes from an Assyrian account of the creation, as found upon the clay tablets discovered in the palace of Assur-bani-pal, a description of formlessness, emptiness, and darkness on the deep of a separation between the earth and sky and of the light as preceding the appearance of the sun. That account also places the creation of animals before that of man, whom it represents as being formed of the dust of the earth, and as receiving a divine effluence from the Creator. According to an Etruscan saga quoted by Suidas, God created the world in six periods of 1,000 years each. In the first, the heavens and the earth; in the second, the firmament; in the third, the seas; in the fourth, the sun, moon, and stars; in the fifth, the beasts of the land, the air, and the sea; in the sixth, man. According to a passage in the Persian Avesta, the supreme Ormazd created the visible world by his word in six periods or thousands of years: in the first, the heavens with the stars; in the second, the water and the clouds; in the third, the earth and the mountains; in the fourth, the trees and the plants; in the fifth, the beasts which sprang from the primeval beast; in the sixth, man.

As we get farther away from the supposed early home of the race, the traditions become more fragmentary and indistinct. The Rig Veda, Mandala, x., 129, tells us that:

“In the beginning there was neither naught nor aught; There was neither day nor night nor light nor darkness; Only the EXISTENT ONE breathed calmly. Next came darkness, gloom on gloom. Next all was water chaos indiscrete."

Strikingly similar is the language quoted in a former lecture from the prayer of a Chinese emperor of the Ming Dynasty. It runs thus: “Of old, in the beginning, there was the great chaos without form and dark. The five elements had not begun to revolve, nor the sun and moon to shine. In the midst thereof there presented itself neither form nor sound. Thou, O Spiritual Sovereign, didst divide the grosser parts from the purer. Thou madest heaven: Thou madest earth: Thou madest man.”

There is a possibility that these conceptions may have come from Christian sources instead of primitive Chinese traditions, possibly from early Nestorian missionaries, though this is scarcely probable, as Chinese emperors have been slow to introduce foreign conceptions into their august temple service to Shangte; its chief glory lies in its antiquity and its purely national character. Buddhism had already been in China more than a thousand years, and these prayers are far enough from its teachings. May we not believe that the ideas here expressed had always existed in the minds of the more devout rulers of the empire? In similar language, the Edda of the Icelandic Northmen describes the primeval chaos.

Thus:

“’Twas the morning of time
When yet naught was,
Nor sand nor sea was there,
Nor cooling streams.
Earth was not formed
Nor heaven above.
A yawning gap was there
And grass nowhere.”

Not unlike these conceptions of the “Beginning” is that which Morenhout found in a song of the Tahitans, and which ran thus:

“He was; Toaroa was his name,
He existed in space; no earth, no heaven, no men.”

M. Goussin adds the further translation: “Toaroa, the Great Orderer, is the origin of the earth: he has no father, no posterity." The tradition of the Odshis, a negro tribe on the African Gold Coast, represents the creation as having been completed in six days. God created first the woman; then the man; then the animals; then the trees and plants; and lastly the rocks. God created nothing on the seventh day. He only gave men His commandments. The reversal of the order here only confirms the supposition that it is an original tradition. We find everywhere on the Western Hemisphere, north and south, plain recognition of the creation of the world by one Supreme God, though the order is not given. How shall we account for the similarities above indicated, except on the supposition of a common and a very ancient source?

Still more striking are the various traditions of the Fall of man by sin. In the British Museum there is a very old Babylonian seal which bears the figures of a man and a woman stretching out their hands toward a fruit-tree, while behind the woman lurks a serpent. A fragment bearing an inscription represents a tree of life as guarded on all sides by a sword. Another inscription describes a delectable region surrounded by four rivers. Professors Rawlinson and Delitzsch both regard this as a reference to the Garden of Eden.

“The Hindu legends,” says Hardwick, “are agreed in representing man as one of the last products of creative wisdom, as the master-work of God; and also in extolling the first race of men as pure and upright, innocent and happy. The beings who were thus created by Brahma are all said to have been endowed with righteousness and perfect faith; they abode wherever they pleased, unchecked by any impediment; their hearts were free from guile; they were pure, made free from toil by observance of sacred institutes. In their sanctified minds Hari dwelt; and they were filled with perfect wisdom by which they contemplated the glory of Vishnu.

“The first men were, accordingly, the best. The Krita age, the ’age of truth,’ the reign of purity, in which mankind, as it came forth from the Creator, was not divided into numerous conflicting orders, and in which the different faculties of man all worked harmoniously together, was a thought that lay too near the human heart to be uprooted by the ills and inequalities of actual life. In this the Hindu sided altogether with the Hebrew, and as flatly contradicted the unworthy speculations of the modern philosopher, who would fain persuade us that human beings have not issued from one single pair, and also, that the primitive type of men is scarcely separable from that of ordinary animals...."

Spence Hardy, in speaking on this subject, describes a Buddhist legend of Ceylon which represents the original inhabitants of the world as having been once spotlessly pure, and as dwelling in ethereal bodies which moved at will through space. They had no need of sun or moon. They lived in perfect happiness and peace till, at last, one of their number tasted of a strange substance which he found lying on the surface of the earth. He induced others to eat also, whereupon all knew good and evil, and their high estate was lost. They now had perpetual need of food, which only made them more gross and earthly. Wickedness abounded, and they were in darkness. Assembling together, they fashioned for themselves a sun, but after a few hours it fell below the horizon, and they were compelled to create a moon. An old Mongolian legend represents the first man as having transgressed by eating a pistache nut. As a punishment, he and all his posterity came under the power of sin and death, and were subjected to toil and suffering. A tradition of the African Odshis, already named, relates that formerly God was very near to men. But a woman, who had been pounding banana fruit in a mortar, inadvertently entering His presence with a pestle in her hands, aroused His anger, and He withdrew into the high heavens and listened to men no more. Six rainless years brought famine and distress, whereupon they besought Him to send one of His counsellors who should be their daysman, and should undertake their cause and care for them. God sent his chief minister, with a promise that He would give rain and sunshine, and He directed that His rainbow should appear in the sky. The inhabitants of Tahiti have a tradition of a fall which is very striking; and Humboldt, after careful study, reached the conclusion that it had not been derived through any communication with Christian lands, but was an old native legend. The Karens of Burmah had a story of an early temptation of their ancestors by an evil being and their consequent apostasy. Many other races who have no definite tradition of this kind have still some vague notion of a golden age in the past. There has been everywhere a mournful and pathetic sense of something lost, of degeneracy from better days gone by, of Divine displeasure and forfeited favor. The baffled gropings of all false religions seem to have been so many devices to regain some squandered heritage of the past. All this is strikingly true of China.

Still more clear and wellnigh universal are the traditions of a flood. The Hindu Brahmanas and the Mahabharata of a later age present legends of a deluge which strikingly resemble the story of Genesis. Vishnu incarnate in a fish warned a great sage of a coming flood and directed him to build an ark. A ship was built and the sage with seven others entered. Attached to the horn of the fish the ship was towed over the waters to a high mountain top. The Chinese also have a story of a flood, though it is not given in much detail. The Iranian tradition is very fragmentary and seems to confound the survivor with the first man of the creation. Yima, the Noah of the story, was warned by the beginning of a great winter rain, by which the waters were raised 19,000 feet. Yima was commanded to prepare a place of safety for a number of chosen men, birds, and beasts. It was to be three stories high, and to be furnished with a high door and window, but whether it was a ship or a refuge on the mountain top does not appear. The same tradition speaks of Eden and of a serpent, but the account is suddenly cut short.

The Greek traditions of a flood varied according to the different branches of the Greek nation. The Arcadians traced their origin to Dardanus, who was preserved from the great flood in a skin-covered boat. The Pelasgians held the tradition of Deucalion and his wife, who were saved in a ship which was grounded on the summit of Pindus. As the water receded they sent out a dove to search for land. The Assyrian account, which was found a few years ago on a tablet in the palace of Assur-bani-pal, claims to have been related as a matter of personal experience by Sisit, the Chaldean Noah, who was commanded to construct a ship 600 cubits long, into which he should enter with his family and his goods. At the time appointed the earth became a waste. The very gods in heaven fled from the fury of the tempest and “huddled down in their refuge like affrighted dogs.” The race of men was swept away. On the seventh day Sisit opened a window and saw that the rain was stayed, but the water was covered with floating corpses; all men had become as clay. The ship rested on a mountain top, and Sisit sent forth a dove, a swallow, and a raven. The dove and the swallow returned, but the raven was satisfied with the floating carcasses. Sisit went forth and offered sacrifice, around which “the gods hovered like flies.”

Professor Rawlinson thinks that these accounts and those given in Genesis were both derived from the earlier traditions, the Assyrian version having been greatly corrupted. The Chaldean tradition is slightly different. The Noah of the Chaldeans was commanded in a dream not only to build a ship, but to bury all important documents and so preserve the antediluvian history. As the flood subsided he, his family, and his pilot were transferred to heaven, but certain friends who were saved with them remained and peopled the earth. Among the ancient Peruvians we find a tradition of a great deluge which swept the earth. After it had passed, the aged man Wiracotscha rose out of Lake Titicaca and his three sons issued from a cave and peopled the earth. Hugh Miller and others have named many similar traditions.

The fact that in nearly every case those who were rescued from the flood immediately offered piacular sacrifices suggests the recognition in all human history of still another fundamental doctrine of Christianity, the universal sense of sin. This conviction was especially strong when the survivors of a Divine judgment beheld the spectacle of a race swept away for their transgressions; but there are abundant traces of it in all ages of the world. The exceptions are found in those instances where false systems of philosophy have sophisticated the natural sense of guilt by destroying the consciousness of personality. All races of men have shown a feeling of moral delinquency and a corresponding fear. The late C. Loring Brace, in his work entitled “The Unknown God,” quotes some striking penitential psalms or prayers offered by the Akkadians of Northern Assyria four thousand years ago.

The deep-seated conviction of guilt which is indicated by the old religion of the Egyptians is well set forth by Dr. John Wortabet, of Beyrut, in a pamphlet entitled “The Temples and Tombs of Thebes.” He says: “The immortality of the soul, its rewards and punishments in the next world, and its final salvation and return into the essence of the divinity were among the most cherished articles of the Egyptian creed. Here (in the tombs), as on the papyri which contain the ’Ritual of the Dead,’ are represented the passage of the soul through the nether world and its introduction into the Judgment Hall, where Osiris, the god of benevolence, sits on a throne, and with the assistance of forty-two assessors proceeds to examine the deceased. His actions are weighed in a balance against truth in the presence of Thoth, the ibis-headed god of wisdom, and if found wanting he is hounded out in the shape of an unclean animal by Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the infernal regions. The soul then proceeds in a series of transmigrations into the bodies of animals and human beings and thus passes through a purgatorial process which entitles it to appear again before the judgment-seat of Osiris. If found pure it is conveyed to Aalu, the Elysian fields, or the ’Pools of Peace.’ After three thousand years of sowing and reaping by cool waters it returns to its old body (the preserved mummy), suffers another period of probation, and is ultimately absorbed into the godhead. One of the most impressive scenes in the whole series is that where the soul, in the form of a mummified body, stands before Osiris and the forty-two judges to be examined on the forty-two commandments of the Egyptian religion. Bearing on its face the signs of solemnity and fear, and carrying in its hand a feather, the symbol of veracity, it says among other things: ’I have not blasphemed the gods, I have defrauded no man, I have not changed the measures of Egypt, I have not prevaricated at the courts of justice, I have not lied, I have not stolen, I have not committed adultery, I have done no murder, I have not been idle, I have not been drunk, I have not been cruel, I have not famished my family, I have not been a hypocrite, I have not defiled my conscience for the sake of my superiors, I have not smitten privily, I have lived on truth, I have made it my delight to do what men command and the gods approve, I have given bread to the hungry and drink to the thirsty and clothes to the naked, my mouth and hands are pure.’ Now what strikes one with great force in this remarkable passage from the walls of the old sand-covered tombs is the wonderful scope and fulness with which the laws of right and wrong were stamped upon the Egyptian conscience. There is here a recognition, not only of the great evils which man shall not commit, but also of many of those positive duties which his moral nature requires. It matters not that these words are wholly exculpatory; they nevertheless recognize sin.”

But perhaps no one has depicted man’s sense of guilt and fear more eloquently than Dean Stanley when speaking of the Egyptian Sphinx. Proceeding upon the theory that that time-worn and mysterious relic is a couchant lion whose projecting paws were long since buried in the desert sands, and following the tradition that an altar once stood before that mighty embodiment of power, he graphically pictures the transient generations of men, in all the sin and weakness of their frail humanity, coming up with their offerings and their prayers “between the paws of deity.” It is a grim spectacle, but it emphasizes the sense of human guilt. Only the Revealed Word of God affords a complete and satisfactory explanation of the remarkable fact that the human race universally stand self-convicted of sin.

There is also a tribute to the truth of Christianity in certain traces of a conception of Divine sacrifice for sin found in some of the early religious faiths of men. All are familiar with the difference between the offerings of Abel and those of Cain the former disclosing a faith in a higher expiation. In like manner there appear mysterious references to a divine and vicarious sacrifice in the early Védas of India. In the Parusha Sukta of the Rig Veda occurs this passage: “From him called Parusha was born Viraj, and from Viraj was Parusha produced, whom gods made their oblation. With Parusha as a victim they performed a sacrifice.” Manu says that Parusha, “the first man,” was called Brahma, and was produced by emanation from the “self-existent spirit.” Brahma thus emanating, was “the first male,” or, as elsewhere called, “the born lord.” By him the world was made. The idea is brought out still more strikingly in one of the Brahmanas where the sacrifice is represented as voluntary and all availing. “Surely,” says Sir Monier Williams, “in these mysterious allusions to the sacrifice of a representative man we may perceive traces of the original institution of sacrifice as a divinely appointed ordinance, typical of the one great offering of the Son of God for the sins of the world.” The late Professor Banergea, of Calcutta, reaching the same conclusion, says: “It is not easy to account for the genesis of these ideas in the Veda, of ’one born in the beginning Lord of creatures,’ offering himself a sacrifice for the benefit of deified mortals, except on the assumption that it is based upon the tradition of the ’Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.’”

No doubt modern scepticism might be slow to acknowledge any such inference as this; but as Professor Banergea was a high-caste Hindu of great learning, and was well acquainted with the subtleties of Hindu thought, his opinion should have great weight. And when we remember how easily scientific scepticism is satisfied with the faintest traces of whatever strengthens its theories how thin are some of the generalizations of Herbert Spencer how very slight and fanciful are the resemblances of words which philologists often accept as indisputable proofs how far-fetched are the inferences sometimes drawn from the appearance of half-decayed fossils as proofs and even demonstrations of the law of evolution we need not be over-modest in setting forth these traces of an original divine element in the institution of typical sacrifices among men.

It is never safe to assume positively this or that meaning for a mysterious passage found in the sacred books of non-Christian systems, but there are many things which seem at least to illustrate important precepts of the Christian faith. Thus the slain Osiris of the Egyptians was said to enter into the sufferings of mortals. “Having suffered the great wound,” so the record runs, “he was wounded in every other wound.” And we read in “The Book of the Dead” that “when the Lord of truth cleanses away defilement, evil is joined to the deity that the truth may expel the evil." This seems to denote an idea of vicarious righteousness.

The Onondaga Indians had a tradition that the celestial Hiawatha descended from heaven and dwelt among their ancestors, and that upon the establishment of the League of the Iroquois he was called by the Great Spirit to sanctify that League by self-sacrifice. As the Indian council was about to open, Hiawatha was bowed with intense suffering, which faintly reminds one of Christ’s agony in Gethsemane. He foresaw that his innocent and only child would be taken from him. Soon after a messenger from heaven smote her to the earth by his side. Then, having drank this cup of sorrow, he entered the council and guided its deliberations with superhuman wisdom. In citing this incident nothing more is intended than to call attention to some of the mysterious conceptions which seem to float dimly through the minds of the most savage races, and which show at the very least that the idea of vicarious sacrifice is not strange to mankind, but is often mysteriously connected with their greatest blessings. The legend of “Prometheus Bound,” as we find it in the tragedies of AEschylus, is so graphic in its picture of vicarious suffering for the good of men that infidel writers have charged the story of the Cross with plagiarism, and have applied to Prometheus some of the expressions used in the fifty-third chapter of the Prophecy of Isaiah. We are often told that there is injustice in the very idea of vicarious suffering, as involved in the Christian doctrine of salvation, or that the best instincts of a reasonable humanity revolt against it. But such criticisms are sufficiently met by these analogies which we find among all nations.

Let me next call attention to some of the predicted deliverers for whom the nations have been looking. Nothing found in the study of the religious history of mankind is more striking than the universality of a vague expectation of coming messiahs. According to the teachings of Hinduism there have been nine incarnations of Vishnu, of whom Buddha was admitted to be one. But there is to be a tenth avatar who shall yet come at a time of great and universal wickedness, and shall establish a kingdom of righteousness on the earth. Some years ago the Rev. Dr. John Newton, of Lahore, took advantage of this prediction and wrote a tract showing that the true deliverer and king of righteousness had already come in the person of Jesus Christ. So striking seemed the fulfilment viewed from the Hindu standpoint, that some hundreds in the city of Rampore were led to a faith in Christ as an avatar of Vishnu.

A remarkable illustration of a felt want of something brighter and more hopeful is seen in the legends and predictions of the Teutonic and Norse religions. The faiths of all the Teutonic races were of the sternest character, and it was such a cultus that made them the terror of Europe. They worshipped their grim deities in the congenial darkness of deep forest shades. There was no joy, no sense of divine pity, no peace. They were conscious of deep and unutterable wants which were never met. They yearned for a golden age and the coming of a deliverer. Baldr, one of the sons of Woden, had passed away, but prophecy promised that he should return to deliver mankind from sorrow and from death. “When the twilight of the gods should have passed away, then amid prodigies and the crash and decay of a wicked world, in glory and joy he should return, and a glorious kingdom should be renewed.” Or, in the words of one of their own poets:

“Then unsown the swath shall flourish and back come Baldr;
With him Hoder shall dwell in Hropter’s palace,
Shrines of gods the great and holy,
There the just shall joy forever,
And in pleasure pass the ages.”

The well-known prediction of the Sibyl of Cumae bears testimony to the same expectation of mankind. The genuine Sibylline Oracles were in existence anterior to the birth of Christ. Virgil died forty years before that event, and the well-known eclogue Pollio is stated by him to be a transcript of the prophetic carmen of the Sibyl of Cumae. But for the fact that it has a Roman instead of a Jewish coloring, it might almost seem Messianic. The oracle speaks thus: “The last era, the subject of the Sibyl song of Cumae, has now arrived; the great series of ages begins anew. The virgin returns returns the reign of Saturn. The progeny from heaven now descends. Be thou propitious to the Infant Boy by whom first the Iron Age shall expire, and the Golden Age over the whole world shall commence. Whilst thou, O Pollio, art consul, this glory of our age shall be made manifest, and the celestial months begin their revolutions. Under thy auspices whatever vestiges of our guilt remain, shall, by being atoned for, redeem the earth from fear forever. He shall partake of the life of the gods. He shall reign over a world in peace with his father’s virtues. The earth, sweet boy, as her first-fruits, shall pour thee forth spontaneous flowers. The serpent shall die: the poisonous and deceptive tree shall die. All things, heavens and earth and the regions of the sea, rejoice at the advent of this age. The time is now at hand." Forty years later the Christ appeared. Whether Virgil had been influenced by Hebrew prophecy it is impossible to say. It may be that the so-called Sibyl had caught something of the same hope which led the Magi of the East to the cradle of the infant Messiah, but in any case the eclogue voiced a vague expectation which prevailed throughout the Roman Empire.

In modern as well as in ancient times nations and races have looked for deliverers or for some brighter hope. Missionaries found the Hawaiians dissatisfied and hopeless; their idols had been thrown away. The Karens were waiting for the arrival of the messengers of the truth. The Mexicans, at the time of the Spanish conquest, were looking for a celestial benefactor. The very last instance of an anxious looking for a deliverer is that which quite recently has so sadly misled our Sioux Indians.

Mankind have longed not only for deliverers, but also for mediators. The central truth of the Christian faith is its divine sympathy and help brought down into our human nature. In other words, mediation God with man. The faith of the Hindus, lacking this element, was cold and remorseless. Siva, the god of destruction, and his hideous and blood-thirsty wives, had become chief objects of worship, only because destruction and death led to life again. But there was no divine help. The gods were plied with sharp bargains in sacrifice and merit; they were appeased; they were cajoled; but there was no love. But the time came when the felt want of men for something nearer and more sympathetic led to the doctrine of Vishnu’s incarnations: first grotesque deliverers in animal shapes, but at length the genial and sympathetic Krishna. He was not the highest model of character, but he was human. He had associated with the rustics and frolicked around their camp-fires. He became Arjuna’s charioteer and rendered him counsel and help in that low disguise. He was a sharer of burdens a counsellor and friend. And he became the most popular of all Hindu deities.

The important point in all this is that this old system, so self-sufficient and self-satisfied, should have groped its way toward a divine sympathizer in human form, a living and helpful god among men. Hinduism had not been wanting in anthropomorphisms: it had imagined the presence of God in a thousand visible objects which rude men could appreciate. Trees, apes, cattle, crocodiles, and serpents had been invested with an in-dwelling spirit, but it had found no mediator. Men had been trying by all manner of devices to sublimate their souls, and climb Godward by their own self-mortification; but they had realized no divine help. To meet this want they developed a veritable doctrine of faith. They had learned from Buddhism the great influence and power of one who could instruct and counsel and encourage. Some Oriental scholars think that they had also learned many things from Christian sources.

However that may be from whatever source they had gained this suggestion they found it to accord with the deepest wants of the human heart. And the splendid tribute which that peculiar development bears to the great fundamental principles of the Christian faith, is all the more striking for the fact that it grew up in spite of the adamantine convervatism of a system, all of whose teachings had been in a precisely opposite direction. It was old Hinduism coming out of its intrenchments to pay honor to the true way of eternal life. Probably the doctrine first sprang from a felt want, but was subsequently reinforced by Christian influences.

The late Professor Banergea, in his “Aryan Witness,” gives what must be regarded as at least a very plausible account of the last development of the so-called Krishna cult, and of this doctrine of faith. He thinks that it borrowed very much from western monotheists. He quotes a passage from the Narada Pancharata, which represents a pious Brahman of the eighth century A.D., as having been sent to the far northwest, where “white-faced monotheists” would teach him a pure faith in the Supreme Vishnu or Krishna. He quotes also, from another and later authority, a dialogue in which this same Brahman reproved Vyasa for not having celebrated the praises of Krishna as supreme. This Professor Banergea regarded as proof that previously to the eighth century Krishna has been worshipped only as a demigod. But the whole drift of the old Brahmanical doctrines had been toward sacrifice as a debt and credit system, and that plan had failed. It had impoverished the land and ruined the people, and had brought no spiritual comfort. Men had found that they could not buy salvation.

Moreover, Buddhism and other forms of rationalistic philosophy, after prolonged and thorough experiment, had also failed. The Hindu race had found that as salvation could not be purchased with sacrifices, neither could it be reasoned out by philosophy, nor worked out by austerities. It must come from a Divine helper. Thus, when Narada had wearied himself with austerities so we read in the Narada Pancharata he heard a voice from heaven saying: “If Krishna is worshipped, what is the use of austerities? If Krishna is not worshipped, what is the use of austerities? If Krishna is within and without, what is the use of austerities? If Krishna is not within and without, what is the use of austerities? Stop, O Brahman; why do you engage in austerities? Go quickly and get matured faith in Krishna, as described by the sect of Vishnu who snaps the fetters of the world.” “We are thus led,” says Professor Banergea, “to the very genesis of the doctrine of faith in connection with Hinduism. And it was admittedly not an excogitation of the Brahmanical mind itself. Narada had brought it from the land of ’the whites,’ where he got an insight into Vishnu as the Saviour which was not attainable elsewhere.” And he then persuaded the author of one of the Puranas to recount the “Lord’s acts” in other words, the history of Krishna, with the enforcement of faith in his divinity: “Change the name,” says Banergea, “and it is almost Christian doctrine."

It is an interesting fact that Buddhism, in its progress through the centuries, has also wrought out a doctrine of faith by a similar process. It began as a form of atheistic rationalism. Its most salient feature was staunch and avowed independence of all help from gods or men. It emphasized in every way the self-sufficiency of one’s own mind and will to work out emancipation. But when Buddha died no enlightened counsellor was left, and another Buddha could not be expected for four thousand years. The multitudes of his disciples felt that, theory or no theory, there was an awful void. The bald and bleak system could not stand on such a basis. The human heart cried out for some divine helper, some one to whom man could pray. Fortunately there were supposed to be predestined Buddhas. “Bodisats” then living in some of the heavens, and as they were preparing themselves to become incarnate Buddhas, they must already be interested in human affairs, and especially the Maitreyeh, who would appear on earth next in order.

So Buddhism, in spite of its own most pronounced dogmas, began to pray to an unseen being, began to depend and trust, began to lay hold on divine sympathy, and look to heaven for help. By the seventh century of our era the northern Buddhists, whether influenced in part by the contact of Christianity, or not, had subsidized more than one of these coming Buddhas. They had a complete Trinity. One person of this Trinity, the everywhere present Avolokitesvara, became the chief object of worship, the divine helper on whom all dependence was placed. This mythical being was really the God of northern Buddhism in the Middle Ages, and is the popular sympathizer of all Mongolian races to the present day. In Thibet he is supposed to be incarnate in the Grand Lama. In China he is incarnate in Quanyen, the goddess of mercy. With sailors she is the goddess of the sea. In many temples she is invoked by the sick, the halt, the blind, the impoverished. Her images are sometimes represented with a hundred arms to symbolize her omnipotence to save. Beal says of this, as Banergea says of the faith element of the Krishna cult, that it is wholly alien to the religion whose name it bears: it is not Buddhism. He thinks that it has been greatly affected by Christian influences.

Another mythical being who is worshipped as God in China and Japan, is Amitabba, a Dhyana or celestial Buddha, who in long kalpas of Time has acquired merit enough for the whole world. Two of the twelve Buddhist sects of Japan have abandoned every principle taught by Gautama, except his ethics, and have cast themselves upon the free grace of Amitabba. They have exchanged the old atheism for theism. They have given up all dependence on merit-making and self-help; they now rely wholly on the infinite merit of another. Their religious duties are performed out of gratitude for a free salvation wrought out for them, and no longer as the means of gaining heaven. They live by a faith which works by love. They expect at death an immediate transfer to a permanent heaven, instead of a series of transmigrations. Their Buddha is not dead, but he ever liveth to receive into his heavenly realm all who accept his grace, and to admit them to his divine fellowship forever. By a direct and complete imputation they are made sharers in his righteousness, and become joint heirs in his heavenly inheritance. Whatever the genesis of these strange cults which now prevail as the chief religious beliefs among the Mongolian races, they are marvellously significant. They have come almost to the very threshold of Christianity. What they need is the true Saviour and not a myth, a living faith and not an empty delusion. Nevertheless, they prove that faith in a divine salvation is the only religion that can meet the wants of the human soul.

There is something very encouraging in these approaches toward the great doctrines of salvation. I do not believe that these sects have come so near to the true Messiah without the influence of the Spirit of God, and without more or less light from Christian sources. But partly they have been moved by those wants which Hinduism and Buddhism could not satisfy. The principle of their faith is worthy of recognition, and the missionary should say as Paul said: “Whom ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you.”

It is a very significant fact that most of the Brahmo Somajes of India have adopted Jesus Christ as the greatest of the world’s prophets. Chunder Sen sometimes spoke of him as a devout Christian would speak. The Arya Somaj would not own His name, but it has graced its Hindu creed with many of His essential doctrines. Quite recently a new organ of the Brahmo Somaj, published at Hyderabad, has announced as its leading object, “to harmonize pure Hinduism and pure Christianity, with Christ as the chief corner-stone.” In the exact words of this paper, called The Harmony, its aim is “to preach Christ as the eternal Son of God, as the Logos in all prophets and saints before and after the incarnation, as the incarnate, perfect righteousness by whose obedience man is made righteous.... Christ is the reconciliation of man with man, and of all men with God, the harmony of humanity with humanity, and of all humanity with Divinity.” This prospectus condemns the average Christianity of foreigners in India the over-reaching, “beef-eating, beer-drinking” Anglo-Saxon type, “which despises the Hindu Scriptures and yet belies its own;” but it exalts the spotless and exalted Christ and builds all the hopes of humanity upon Him. How will the mere philosopher explain this wonderful power of personality over men of all races, if it be not Divine?

But perhaps the most remarkable tribute to the transcendent character of Christ is seen in the fact that all sects of religionists, the most fanatical and irrational, seem to claim Him as in some sense their own. Mormonism, even when plunging into the lowest depths of degradation, has always claimed to rest on the redemption of Jesus Christ. Mohammedanism even the Koran itself has always acknowledged Christ as the only sinless prophet. All the others, from Adam to Mohammed, stand convicted of heinous offences, and they will not reappear on earth; while He who knew no sin shall, according to Mohammedan prophecy, yet come again to judge the earth. The worshippers of Krishna, some of whom are found among us in this land, claim Christ as one of the true avatars of Vishnu, and heartily commend His character and His teachings. Our western Buddhists are just now emphasizing the idea that Christ was the sacred Buddha of Palestine, that he studied and taught “the eight-fold path,” became an arahat, and attained Nirvana, and that the Christian Church has only misrepresented His transcendent wisdom and purity. The ablest tract on Theosophy that I have yet seen is entitled “Theosophy the Religion of Jesus.”

How marvellous is all this that Theosophists, Aryas, Brahmos, Buddhists, Moslems, though they hate Christianity and fight it to the death still bow before the mild sceptre of Christ. As the central light of the diamond shines alike through every facet and angle, so His doctrine and character are claimed as the glory of every creed. Many types of heathen faiths honor Him, and many schools of philosophic scepticism. Some of the noblest tributes to His unearthly purity have been given by men who rejected His divinity. In spite of itself the most earnest thought of many races, many systems, many creeds, has crystallized around Him. History has made Him its moral centre, the calendar of the nations begins with Him, and the anniversary of His birth is the festival of the civilized world. The prediction that all nations should call Him blessed is already fulfilled.