The most amazing movement in all history is the one which arose with Jesus Christ and his disciples. This movement was launched by Jesus during the "days of his flesh" in Palestine more than nineteen hundred years ago and has been carried on by his disciples since his death. The most meaningful book in all literature is the New Testament, our only authentic record of this historic enterprise.
The story contained in the New Testament is known to more people than any other ever written. While more than half the people of the world know something of this story our knowledge of it is often fragmentary and incomplete. To obtain accurate knowledge of all the facts in the record will require long and diligent study. To understand fully the exhaustless meaning of the truths contained in this story is an accomplishment which no one man in all history could claim. Each new generation will continue to discover new truths which hitherto have been unobserved. Human minds will never outreach the truth incorporated in this story; indeed, we may never completely understand all that is contained therein. This fact, however, should inspire the student to enter this field of study with enthusiasm. A well planned course of study in the New Testament will be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. An understanding of the basic facts of historic Christianity introduces the student to a field which will become increasingly rich and satisfying.
By any and all standards Jesus Christ has always been regarded as the greatest figure in human history. As we enter upon the second half of the twentieth century a number of men have prepared lists of the greatest men of these fifty years. While we recognize the great achievements of men selected in these lists none of us could think of comparing any of them to Jesus Christ. On any list of the world's greatest men we always find at its head Jesus of Nazareth. Regardless of whether or not men acknowledge him as Saviour and Lord they must pay tribute to him as the world's outstanding man.
In many volumes one may find the greatness of Jesus extolled. "It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which, through all the changes of eighteen centuries, has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love; has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions; has been not only the highest pattern of virtue, but the strongest incentive to its practice, and has exercised so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of his three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists. This has, indeed, been the well-spring of whatever is best and purest in Christian life. Amid all the sins and failings, amid all the priest-craft and persecution and fanaticism that have defaced the church, it has preserved, in the character of its Founder, an enduring principle of regeneration."
In his book, The Character of Jesus, Dr. Charles Jefferson says of him: "More lives of Jesus have been written within the last fifty years than of any other historic character. More pages are printed about him every week than about any hundred of the world's greatest men. He exerts a power which is so phenomenal that many feel he must be more than man, linked in some way or other with the Eternal. He must be—men say—the Son of God. In this land alone men contribute several hundred million dollars every year to support the institutions which bear his name. They are not compelled to do this. They do it voluntarily because they want to do it, and because he so works upon them that they count such giving a privilege and pleasure. As Napoleon Bonaparte once said, 'This man vanished for eighteen hundred years still holds the characters of men as in a vise.' The little Corsican sat dumfounded as he compared his greatness with the greatness of the Man of Galilee. Napoleon's last biographer devotes two volumes to the rise of his hero and two volumes to his decline and fall. All the volumes of the life of Jesus record the story of his ascent. He goes on and on from victory to victory, from glory to glory, and as men's eyes become cleansed and their hearts purified they see with increasing certainty that God has indeed so highly exalted him and some day every knee shall bend to him and every tongue confess that he is King indeed.
"His greatness is full-orbed. He was complete, and in his completeness we find an explanation of his beauty. Men who stood nearest to him were charmed and swayed by his loveliness. He was full of grace and truth. He had a charm about him which wooed and fascinated. Children liked him, boys sang for him, publicans hung upon him. He had the heart of a child, the tenderness of a woman, the strength of a man. The three dimensions of his life were complete. He had eyes which looked along extended lines running into eternity; he had sympathies wide enough to cover humanity to its outermost edge; he had a purpose which included all lands and ages, his kingdom is to be universal and it shall have no end. He is at every point complete. His virtues are all full-statured, his graces are all in fullest bloom. You can no more add anything to him than you can add something to the sky. He pushed every good trait of human character to its utmost limit. His forgiveness was unbounded, his generosity was untiring, his patience was inexhaustible, his mercy was immeasurable, his courage was illimitable, his wisdom was unfathomable, his kindness was interminable, his faith removed mountains, his hope had no shadow in it, his love was infinite. And so it is impossible to go beyond him. We can never outgrow him. He will be always ahead of us. We shall always hear him saying, 'Follow me!' He is the ideal of the heart. He is the goal of humanity. It is this completeness of his character which accounts not only for his beauty but for his perennial and increasing power. He is the lily of the valley, the fairest of ten thousand, and one altogether lovely. He is the image of God!"
A more recent writer, Dr. Walter Bell Denny, pays his tribute to Jesus. "And this perfect character is no mere formal pattern, but a living force, a radiant, contagious personality, whose spirit flows out into the lives of those who attach themselves to him, like living water from an endless spring. From this dynamic center has continued to flow through nineteen centuries a stream of vitalizing energy that has quickened and set in motion the spiritual life of the world. Where the life of men has sent its roots down to that undercurrent, all the noblest and most creative impulses of human nature have been released. The beauty of his life has set free in men the noblest creations of art and music. The unselfishness of his character has inspired our finest public service and philanthropy. The profoundness of his insight has quickened all our search for truth. The loftiness of his spiritual vision has carried us above the sordidness of earthly satisfactions. The perfect-ness of his love has shamed us with its purity and wooed us with its gentleness from stained lives to holiness of heart. The greatness of his faith has caught us in its spell until we, too, have shared with him the assurance of the life immortal. His greatness is not only that he made us know that we are sons of God. He showed us, in himself, what a real, complete Son of God is like."
"And still Christ is not yet expelled from the earth either by the ravages of time or by the efforts of men. His memory is everywhere: on the walls of the churches and the schools, on the tops of bell-towers and of mountains, in street-shrines, at the heads of beds and over tombs, thousands of crosses bring to mind the death of the Crucified One. Take away the frescoes from the churches, carry off the pictures from the altars and from the houses, and the life of Christ fills museums and picture-galleries. Throw away breviaries and missals, and you find His name and His words in all the books of literature."
During his lifetime no one understood or even dreamed of the influence which the work of Jesus would have on the history of the world. It is possible now, however, for the student of history to look back upon these two thousand years and understand to some degree the revolutionary, beneficent and far-reaching influence which the teachings of Jesus have had upon the races of mankind. Indeed, many books have been written to demonstrate this fact.
These effects are to be seen in every area of human life. Christianity at the start revolutionized the life of the Roman world. It has been the saving influence of every generation and century since its beginning. It has inspired men to their highest endeavors in intellectual areas. It has profoundly affected all the arts. Its contribution to painting, sculpture, architecture, music, education and literature has been immeasurable.
In no realm have the teachings of Jesus produced such beneficent results as in the field of human welfare or social progress. From him we have learned the true ideals and values of the social order. From him we have learned the dignity and worth of personality. He first gave to the world the idea of the brotherhood of man. His teachings have contributed immeasurably to the uplift of women. Because of him womanhood and childhood have been emancipated. The inspiration for every piece of humane legislation has come from the Man of Nazareth. His teachings have done more to eradicate human slavery than all other agencies combined. Because of the truth which Jesus lived and taught all the charitable institutions which minister to underprivileged and needy people have come into existence. His teachings have been the source of the inspiration and passion for the social reforms of recent centuries.
The influence of Jesus on the religious life of the peoples of the world has been incalculable. He came into a world already filled with religious institutions. Slowly and yet surely his truths triumphed over the false teachings of other systems. That triumph has continued through the centuries. Despite temporary and discouraging delays it is steadily moving ahead and ultimately will reach the degree of complete and final victory predicted for it.
"Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a woman who, to her peasant neighbors, was just one of them and one with them. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty, and then, for three years, he was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put his feet inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself.
"While still a young man the tide of private opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. He was turned over to his enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. As he was dying, his executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had on earth, and that was his coat. When he was dead he was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
"Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today, He is the centerpiece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress.
"I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that were ever built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as has that One Solitary Life!"
Because of the greatness of Jesus as a person and because of the ever-enlarging effects of his teachings upon the lives of men, it is imperative that every intelligent person be acquainted with the origin and early development of the Christian enterprise.
What has been said up to this point should convince one that Christianity has vitally affected the life of the world during the past 1900 years. Thoughtful people naturally wonder will this be true in the future. Will Christianity continue to live and to affect the lives of individuals and society tomorrow? Frankly there are some who say no. These are bold to affirm that we have outgrown Christ in the present progressive period of history; he has lost his appeal to men, and the future can never be influenced by him and his teachings like past centuries have been. According to those who hold this view the place of Jesus in the lives of men is steadily diminishing and will continue to decrease in the future.
Naturally no one can tell just what place Jesus Christ will have in the lives of men in the future. However, before concluding that Christianity has already reached its zenith of power and is declining, it will be well to examine some aspects of life today with a view to discovering how they are influenced by him.
At the outset we may admit that Jesus Christ does not have the place in the world which he should have. The degree to which his teachings are accepted and followed is far less than ideal. His kingdom has not yet come. He does not reign in the lives of men as he should. However this is the failure of his followers and not Jesus. Without making any exaggerated claims, we may be surprised to discover how deeply and vitally his teachings are affecting the lives of people in our own time.
The church is the one organization of which we naturally think first. What is its place and influence today? To begin with we may note that reliable statistics show that in the United State's there has been a steady increase in church membership for many years. This growth persists through periods of peace and war. It is worthy of note also that in every community the best citizens are those who proudly claim membership in some Christian church. The critics of the church assert that church attendance is steadily decreasing; that its members do not often support the services with their presence. Admitting that church attendance is far from ideal, the fact remains that there are still millions of people who gather in their churches for worship services every Sunday. No other institution continues to command the support and devotion which multitudes of people gladly give to their church. A study of the budgets of churches for their work at home and abroad will reveal a steady increase in gifts which reaches an amazing total each year.
According to the report of the Stewardship Department of the National Council of Churches, made in November 1962, the total gifts of the forty-six Protestant denominations in the United States for all objects in 1961 was well over two and one half billion dollars. Were the gifts of Catholic churches included the amount would probably be doubled.
The influence of Jesus Christ in the educational life of our country is vast and far-reaching. Every denomination has a program of education designed for the needs of every age group from infants to adults. This program involves the spending of millions of dollars for teaching materials and equipment. It involves the labor of tens of thousands of men and women who voluntarily prepare themselves to teach each Sunday a total number of some fifty million people in church schools. One should not forget the thousands of Vacation Bible Schools held each summer; the hundreds of week-day church schools; the inumerable young people's organizations with their programs of study; the great hosts of devout women who study missions and promote the missionary activities of their churches. In addition to these educational activities in the churches we may mention the place of religion in the field of higher education. There are in our country today approximately five hundred church-related colleges which are providing educational opportunities for nearly one-half of the 3,000,000 young people in colleges and universities. An indication of the growing significance of Christianity in higher education in America is the emphasis which large universities are giving to it by the establishing of Schools of Religion. Finally, one should remember that there are two hundred or more seminaries or divinity schools where many thousands of young men are being given professional training for their work as ministers and missionaries.
The first book to be printed from moveable type was the Bible. Since that date, some five hundred years ago, religious forces have employed printed materials in ever increasing volume. No statistician would be able to calculate the thousands of tons of paper used in teaching materials—books, tracts, magazines and journals. The annual output of some of the great religious publishing houses would fill the cars of several long freight trains. The secular press gives much space in one manner or another to religious subjects. More than four hundred newspapers print each day a verse or a text from the Bible. Almost every secular magazine publishes some articles on religious subjects at regular intervals. In the field of fiction religion is always prominent. Books of a wholesome religious character, with literary worth, are usually popular. A number of "best sellers" in fiction in recent years have been of a religious nature. The fact that the Bible itself continues year after year to be the "best seller" among all books is known to every intelligent person. It is estimated that the total sales of Bible reaches more than forty million copies each year. It is further estimated that there are more than 950 million Bibles now in use.
The teachings of Jesus are brought to the attention of the public by various other means in America today. On the legitimate stage and in motion pictures, plays of a religious nature have great appeal to audiences, and often prove to be top "box-office" attractions. Sermons, addresses, plays, music and other types of religious programs are broadcast to millions of people by means of radio week by week. No one can evaluate the effect of these religious presentations, but all know that they bring the claims of religion to many millions of people. Television, the newest medium of communication, is already being used by various Christian bodies.
There is but one reason for the tremendous emphasis on religion as indicated by these agencies mentioned above. People are interested in it; they need it and respond to it. It is not forced upon them but is provided because of public demand.
The New Testament is not an obsolete book which no longer attracts or challenges scholars. On the contrary there are good reasons why it receives today a measure of study and serious consideration from great scholars beyond that of any other time in history. Certainly no other writings have been subjected to such continued and diligent study as the New Testament.
Leaders in all fields of thought must face it and examine its teachings since its truth enters every area of life. One can not be an authority in philosophy without a knowledge of wha�