We may not hope for the conversion of the Mohammedans, unless true Christianity be exemplified before them by the Oriental Churches. To them the native Christians represent the Christian religion, and they see that these are no better than themselves. They think them worse; and therefore the Moslem believes the Koran to be more excellent than the Bible.
It is vain to say, that the native Christians have so far departed from the truth that they do not feel the power of the Gospel, and that therefore the immorality of their lives is not to be attributed to its influence. The Mohammedan has seen no other effect of it, and he cannot be persuaded to read the Bible to correct the evidence of his observation, and perhaps also of his own painful experience.
Hence a wise plan for the conversion of the Mohammedans of Western Asia necessarily involved, first, a mission to the Oriental Churches. It was needful that the lights of the Gospel should once more burn on those candlesticks, that everywhere there should be living examples of the religion of Jesus Christ, that Christianity should no longer be associated in the Moslem mind with all that is sordid and base.
The continued existence of large bodies of nominal Christians among these Mohammedans, is a remarkable fact. They constitute more than a third part of the population of Constantinople, and are found in all the provinces of the empire, as, also, in Persia, and are supposed to number at least twelve millions. Being so numerous and so widely dispersed, should spiritual life be revived among them a flood of light would illumine the Turkish empire, and shine far up into Central Asia. The followers of Mohammed would look on with wonder, and perhaps, at first, with hatred and persecution; but new views of the Gospel would thus be forced upon them, and no longer would they be able to boast of the superiority of their own religion.
It is true of the Oriental Churches, that they have lost nearly all the essential principles of the Gospel; at least that those principles have, in great measure, ceased to have a practical influence.1 Their views of the Trinity, and of the divine and human natures of Christ, are not unscriptural; but their views of the way of salvation through the Son, and of the work of the Holy Spirit, are sadly perverted. The efficacy of Christ's death for the pardon of sin, is secured to the sinner, they suppose, by baptism and penance. The belief is universal, that baptism cancels guilt, and is regeneration. They also believe baptism to be the instrumental cause of justification. Hence faith is practically regarded as no more than a general assent of the understanding to the creeds of their churches. Of the doctrine of a justifying faith of the heart,—the distinguishing doctrine of the Gospel,—the people of the Oriental Churches are believed to have been wholly ignorant, before the arrival of Protestant missionaries among them.
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