The answer to this question comes with great readiness from a host of those who tell us that the meaning of Christianity is summed up in a code of ethical principles. The endless strife of theological tongues has led weary souls to take refuge in the apparent simplicity of the moral law; the stress of the modern social problem has prompted others to fix their exclusive attention upon the Christian rule of conduct as offering the final solution. And so we hear from all sides the many voices that unite in the swelling chorus, whose burden is the lofty ethical precepts of the Sermon on the Mount or the noble utterances of the Hebrew prophets as the sum and substance of all essential Christianity: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them”; “Do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with thy God,”—Christianity means this and nothing more.
The assertion of an essentially moral Christianity comes to us backed with the authority of high scholarship. In the Hibbert Journal of October, 1908, in an article entitled “How may Christianity be Defended Today?” Professor McGiffert tells us that “to promote the reign of sympathy and service among men was the controlling purpose of Christ Himself,” that “modern study of Jesus has made this very clear, and we are recognizing with a unanimity never reached in other days that it was for this Jesus labored and for this He summoned men to follow Him.” The fact that this article, in spite of its confused reasoning and its inconclusiveness, is said to have been translated into several foreign languages, proves the strong hold which the moral interpretation of Christianity has obtained.
It is the purpose of the following pages to examine this view. We ask: What do the records teach? Do they permit the interpretation of Christianity as a set of moral laws? or do they imply something else, the religious or spiritual?