The Sacred Books of the East

 

J. Hampton Keathley III

 


 

The question has often been put to the writer, why should not some of the sacred books of the East be as good as the Bible? While in some quarters the inquiry is pressed even further--is it not possible that Mohammedanism or Buddhism or Confucianism may constitute the true religion, and the Bible be wrong after all ?

Both questions are perfectly fair and natural, provided they spring from a spirit of honest inquiry, and not from a desire to evade what is believed to be the truth by mere quibbles.

As, however, I am not aware of the existence of any easily accessible work dealing particularly, and in a concise manner, with this subject, I have ventured to add this chapter in the hope that it may prove both interesting and instructive. In any case, it will, I trust, assist the reader in forming his own judgment as to the relative values of those so-called sacred books, as compared with the Book we call the Bible.

These sacred books are, roughly speaking, five in number i.e., they are the only ones worth taking into consideration. All others are extremely insignificant and unimportant.

I. The Veda of the Brahmans or Hindus.
II. The Zend-Avesta of the Parsees or Zoroastrians.
III. The King, or Confucian Texts of the Chinese.
IV. The Tripitaka, or three collections of Buddhist writings.
V. The Koran, the code of Islam, or Mohammedanism.
VI. Conclusion

Translations of these were published some few years ago by the University of Oxford in forty stately volumes, but these are, of course, not within reach of the multitude.

I propose first to give a brief sketch of each, and then make a comparison between them and the Bible.

 

I. THE VEDA OF THE BRAHMANS OR HINDUS

The Brahman is the highest caste in the system of Hinduism. Veda is a Sanscrit word meaning "knowledge," or " sacred science."

The writings consist of four collections of hymns, detached verses, and sacrificial formulae, viz. (1) the Rigeveda or Veda of praises or hymns, of which there are 1,028 ; (2) the Samaveda, or Veda of chants or tunes; (3) the Yajurveda, or Veda of prayers-of which there are only a few preserved; and (4) the Atharvaveda, or Veda of the Atharvians, consisting of about twenty books of hymns to certain divine powers, and incantations against evil powers. The first three are known as the Trayi Vidya, or "Threefold Sciences," and formed the original collection, the fourth being of later date. Around them all, however, have grown a number of commentaries, comprising explanations, mystical Speculations and legends, varying greatly in age. These commentaries are called "Brahmana" while the original writings are called "Sanhita."

The Veda is believed by the Hindus to have been revealed by Brahma; indeed, they claim that every word of it "issued like breath from the mouth of the Self-Existent." The word "Brahma" signifies "universal spirit," cause of all existence.

Manu, the reputed author of the most renowned law-books of the ancient Hindus, says that Brahma was born in a golden egg, and then, after living in it for a year, divided it into two parts, and made heaven and earth out of the egg from which he was born! There is in the Indian Museum an idol representing Brahma with four heads and four arms.

Brahma, however, has long ceased to occupy the high place he once held among the gods of India, and is seldom, if at all, worshiped, as, since the creation of the world, he has ceased to have any function to perform--although the Veda still claims some two hundred million adherents.

The writings of the Veda are doubtless very ancient. Their real authors--for there were probably several--are, however, unknown; but the early writings appear to have been arranged in their present form about 1000 B.C., by some unknown person called by the Hindus "Vyasa," the arranger.

Much of the religion of the Veda is full of superstition, and consists of the worship of the powers and phenomena of nature, the hymns of the Rigveda being addressed to Augi (=the god of fire), Indra (=the god of the sky), Soma (=the deified power of the intoxicating juice of the soma plant), and other minor deities.

One of the cardinal doctrines of the Veda, like that of the Tripitaka of the Buddhists, is the transmigration of souls--that is, re-ncarnation, or the transition of the soul after death into some other body, which may be that of a prince or a slave, a tiger or a frog, an ape, a serpent, a flea, or even a plant. This transmigration is supposed to continue in unbroken succession for millions of years, the real aim of life ever being to discover how to get release from the burden of existence, which in the end is accomplished by absolutely losing one's individuality, and being absorbed into the Self-Existent--i.e., some supreme spiritual essence that does duty for God.

The late Sir M. Monier-Williams, K.C.I.E., Boden Professor of Sanscrit, gives the following mournful summary of the teaching of the Veda "Your diseased condition, it says, proceeds from ignorance--ignorance that your real nature is one with God's nature; that your soul is part of the one self-existent Soul (Atman) of the universe--a portion of the one infinite Essence (Brahman) which delights in infinite manifestations of itself, yet imposes a kind of self-ignorance on every separate soul proceeding out of itself. Your only cure is to get self-knowledge; but, to gain it, you will have to go through countless penances, fastings, pilgrimages, purifications, in this life; and, after this life, to expiate your evil deeds in eight million, four hundred thousand forms of subsequent existences--in men, animals, and even plants. Then, at the end of long ages of discipline, you will become fit for re-union (Sayujya) with the one self-existent Being whence you proceeded, and with whom you are really identified!"

One of the natural results of all this was strikingly brought out in an article in the Times of December 5th, 1904, under the title, "Wild Beasts and Snakes in India."

The writer tells of the enormous number of deaths which occur through snake-bite alone--over twenty thousand annually--and of the terrible damage to crops caused by wild beasts, neither of which is in any way checked owing to the superstitions of the Hindus, whose minds have for countless generations been influenced by the teachings of the Veda, and who imagine either that these beasts may be the reincarnation of some former human beings, or that they possess some supernatural powers. He tells us how they venerate the cobra and other deadly snakes and wild beasts, and says, "It is exasperating to see the Hindus stand by, helpless and passive, while the sacred antelope and monkey strip their fields bare!"

Again: "Among the living creatures which they [the Hindus] venerate, the deadly cobra is one especial object of worship and respect. Among the more ignorant sections of the people it is believed that the cobra has supernatural powers, and can influence their fortunes. No Indian would kill a cobra if he could help it, and it is said that, when a cobra is killed perforce, it is given all the honors of a regular cremation, and assured with many protestations that its reluctant destroyers are guiltless of its blood, and that it was slain of necessity! This unfortunate attitude of the millions of India towards the snake makes it almost hopeless for the Government to diminish the loss of human life."

While the following extract from the same article shows how the writer himself traces the cause of the sad state of things to the religion of the Hindus, which is the religion of the Veda: "It has been well said that in India we have to deal with creeds that range between the extreme points of the basest animalism on the one hand, and the most exalted metaphysics on the other, and with standards of life that cover the whole space between barbarism and civilization; and no one who has listened to the stories of the Indian peasants about 'King Cobra, and tiger incarnations can gainsay the truth of the utterance. It is a melancholy presentment of Indian life, this short annual statement of men and cattle killed by wild beasts and snakes; but the background of terror and Superstition is darker still."

 

 II. THE ZEND-AVESTA OF THE PARSEES OR ZOROASTRIANS

Avesta means "text," or "lore," and represents the original writings; Zend means "commentary," and represents the comments which have grown around the original writings--just as the Brahmana commentaries grew around the original Sanhita of the Veda

Zoroaster, the celebrated sage of ancient Persia, was the supposed founder or reformer of the religion embodied in the Zend-Avesta. He flourished, according to the Parsees (who are about the only representatives of ancient Persia) about 500 B.C. He probably, however, lived--if, indeed, he lived at all--many centuries earlier. For "not only has his date been much debated; but .the very fact of his historical existence has been denied," [1] However, some of the oldest writings of the Zend-Avesta are said to date some 700 or 800 B.C.

Originally there were as many as twenty-one books, and the Zoroastrian creed which they contained flourished around ancient Persia, Meda, Upper Tibet, etc., until about the time of Alexander the Great, when it rapidly declined. The whole now consists of fragments of not more than about thirty or forty hymns, which only find a comparatively few adherents, not exceeding a hundred thousand in all. Some nine thousand are in Persia, and others scattered over districts on the west Coast of India-Bombay, and such places.

These remaining fragments of the Zend-Avesta were collected in their present form about A.D. 300, and comprise history and prayers; also praises to the sun, moon, water, fire, etc., including nature worship generally, and much superstition, especially in the later works.

One chief feature in the doctrine taught by Zoroaster was the perpetual conflict or antagonism between good and evil, life and death. At the end of life's struggle the faithful, "encouraged by their own conscience," pass over the "narrowed bridge" into God's presence, to enjoy unending happiness, while the wicked fail to pass over that bridge, being "cursed by their own conscience," and are for ever lost.

Part of its teaching is something akin to Unitarianism, but the whole is described generally as "a heap of rubbish," out of which may be dug remnants of what has been called a "remarkable religion."

Although the Parsees invariably adopt the language of the country they inhabit, yet, such is their Superstitious regard for the "holy language" of the Zend-Avesta, that their sacred books are always read by the priest in the original Zend (the language of ancient Persia), albeit the priests as a rule have no more knowledge of it than the laity!

 

 III. THE KING, OR CONFUCIAN TEXTS

Confucius, the celebrated sage and moral teacher of China, the stamp of whose character and teaching is still impressed upon the institutions of his country, was born 551 B.C. In his twenty-second year he began his career as a teacher, from which time "he commenced to communicate to his disciples his views on the ancient literature and history of their country, and on the principles of human duty."

His greatest achievement is said to have been the formulating of the golden rule in a negative form, thus, "What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others"; which, however, the Bible taught nearly 500 years before! (see Prov. xxiv. 29). But he acknowledges that he failed in obeying that rule himself. His advice was to "Recompense injury with justice, and return good for good." He apparently knew nothing of being "kind to the unthankful and to the evil" (Luke vi. 35), or of "overcoming evil with good" (Rom. xii. 21). He died at the age of 72, lamenting the failure of his life.

He never pretended to be anything more than a man. Here. is his own description of himself in his sixty fifth year: "I am a man who in his eager pursuit of knowledge forgets his food, and in the joy of its attainment forgets his sorrows, and who does not perceive that old age is coming on." Immediately after his death, however, Confucianism became the so-called "religion" of the State in China; and although Confucius was never actually deified, he is still honored by many sacrifices and offerings.

The old law of China required that there should be a temple to Confucius in every district and market town of the empire. Twice. a year the Emperor had to visit the imperial college at Pekin, and offer this empty and meaningless prayer to the dead sage:--"On this month of the year, I, the Emperor, offer sacrifice to the philosopher Kung [the family name or clan of Confucius] the ancient teacher, the perfect sage., and say, O teacher in virtue equal to heaven and earth, whose doctrines embrace both time past and present, thou didst digest and transmit the six classics, and didst hand down lessons for all generations.

"Now, in the second month of spring [or autumn], in reverent obedience. to the old statutes, with victims, silks, spirits, and fruits, I offer sacrifice. to thee;

"With thee are associated the philosopher Yen continuator of thee; the philosopher Tsang, exhibitor of the fundamental principles; the philosopher Tsze-sze, transmitter of thee; and the philosopher Mang, second to thee.

"Mayest thou enjoy the offerings!"

In addition to the actual writings of Confucius there are what are called the Confucian Analects, or Extracts, compiled soon after his death from the reminiscences of his disciples.

Confucianism inculcates the worship of no god, and can scarcely, therefore be called a religion. Indeed, it is practically morality without religion. There is no confession of sin; no seeking of forgiveness; no communion with God. "It lauds the present world, rather doubts than otherwise the existence of a future one, and calls upon all to cultivate such virtues as are seemly in citizens--industry, modesty, sobriety, gravity, decorum, and thoughtfulness[2] "; but offers to its devotees no power to enable them to carry out its precepts. Nor does it even hold up to them as an encouragement the perfect example of its founder; for Confucius himself confessed that he never practiced all he preached. While one of his tenets, not often referred to--viz., that it was right to tell lies on certain occasions--has left its terrible mark on the four hundred millions of China, most of whom are Confucianists, and whose disregard of truth is one of their most prominent characteristics to-day.

 

IV. THE TRIPITAKA, OR BUDDHIST WRITINGS

"The history of Buddhism is overlaid with a mass of extravagant and incredible legend; and H. H. Wilson thought it doubtful whether the Buddha (the celebrated sage of India) was an actual historical personage, and not rather an allegorical figment."[3]

Assuming, however, that he was a real person, Buddha is said to have lived about 500 or 600 B.C.; was a prince of one of the ruling military tribes of India, but was of Persian origin. His personal name was Gautama, the title "Buddha" being a Sanscrit word, meaning the "Enlightened One." He early discovered that all that life could offer was vanity and vexation of spirit; that ignorance was the cause of all suffering and misery--as it was the ultimate cause of existence itself.

He therefore separated himself from his family and friends, and gave himself up to years of lonely contemplation. At length, while sitting under a tree near Gaya Town in Bengal, he professed to attain perfect wisdom by the extinction of all desires and passions of every kind, whether good or bad. The spot where this tree grew is believed by Buddhists to be the Center of the earth.

He died at the age of eighty, when he was supposed to reach the final goal of Buddhism--viz. Nirvina, which is a Sanscrit word meaning "blowing out," as of a candle--i.e., extinction. First, extinction of all desires and passions, and secondly, extinction of individual existence--complete annihilation.[4] This is the highest state it is possible for a Buddhist to reach.

For forty years he propagated his strange doctrine by preaching only, as he himself wrote nothing. In course of time, however, "his teaching spread among all the Mongolian races over the greater part of Asia, and as far north as China, Mongolia, and Japan.."

It was, however, ultimately committed to writing by his disciples, and approved by various councils long after his death (see p. 305). These writings are called the "Tripitaka" = triple basket, or three collections; and comprise:--

1. Vimaya, containing rules of discipline.
2. Sutra, containing precepts and dialogues on moral conduct, etc.
3. Abbi-dharma, containing additional precepts and explanations.

The substance of their contents is summed up in what Buddha called, the four sublime virtues; viz.--

1. That pain exists.
2. That the cause of pain is desire or attachment.
3. That pain can be ended by Nirvana.
4. That the way to Nirvana consists in--

-right belief,
-right aspiration,
-right speech,
-right conduct,
-right means of livelihood,
-right endeavor
-right meditation,
-right memory,

Or it might be put into other words, thus:--

1. The utter and hopeless misery of all conscious existence.
2. The transmigration of souls, through countless ages and experiences.
3. The attainment of Nirvana--annihilation--as the great prize to be sought for at all costs.

What a gospel of misery and despair is this gospel of Buddha, which so many praise!

Here is a translation of Buddha's first sermon, which is said to contain the cream of his doctrine:

"Birth is suffering. Decay is suffering. Illness is suffering. Death is suffering. Presence of objects we hate is suffering. Separation from objects we love is suffering. Not to obtain what we desire is suffering. Clinging to existence is suffering. Complete cessation of thirst, or of craving for existence, is cessation of suffering."

What a funereal dirge!--and how different from those gracious words which fell from the lips of Christ, on the occasion of His first public utterance:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor ; He hath sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind ; to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke iv. 18).

Buddha taught that all conscious existence is hopelessly miserable--death itself furnishing no escape, as death was only an entrance upon another form of existence equally doomed. In other words, when a man dies he is immediately born again in some other form, which may be either miserable or happy--such as a woman, a slave, a disgusting animal, a plant; indeed, anything from a clod of earth to a god, according to his former merit or de-merit. Even the attainment of heaven itself, or being transmigrated into a god, does not secure deliverance from misery, as such conditions are subject to further changes into a worse state of being. Hence the hopelessness that blights all the future outlook of the Buddhist.

"The Buddha himself before his last birth...had gone through every conceivable form of existence on the earth, in the air and in the water, in hell and in heaven, and had filled every condition in human life!

"When he attained the perfect knowledge of the Buddha he was able to recall all these existences; and that part of the Buddhist legendary literature, called the Jatakas, narrates his exploits when he lived as an elephant, as a bird, as a stag, and so forth! "[5]

As we have said, Buddha taught that the only real escape from the misery of life is in Nirvana, the absolute extinction of all individual existence. So that when he spoke of "arriving at the other shore" he meant annihilation. "where there are neither ideas, nor the idea of the absence of ideas"--that is, Nirvana.

And to make matters sadder still, we are told that of all the hundreds of millions of Buddhists that have lived, only three or four are said to have reached that final goal.[6] Oh, the melancholy suspense of such a religion!

Moreover, it may be interesting here to read just one of the rules to be observed by those who would attain that state of unenviable bliss. A soul that is set on attaining to Nirvana is not a!lowed to look at or converse with a female, so that "if his mother have fallen into a river, and be drowning, he shall not give her his hand to help her out; if there be a pole at hand, he may reach that to her; but if not, she must drown" (Wilson). That is Buddhism! And yet Buddha laid great stress on respect to parents!

It will, therefore, be seen that while the religion of the Zend-Avesta has traces of Unitarianism in it, that of the Buddhists is more like Agnosticism; and while the Veda of the Brahmans teaches that we end our individuality by being absorbed into some supreme spiritual essence, Buddhism teaches that we end in utter annihilation. Again, while Confucianism is morality without religion, Buddhism is a religion without God.

This indeed, proved to be so unsatisfying to his followers that they have practically deified Buddha himself. And although his very existence ended in Nirvana, and he was thus completely annihilated about 2,400 years ago, Buddhists still offer a kind of prayer to him as "the Venerable of the World"! Indeed, the central object in every Buddhist temple is an image of Buddha, where fruit, flowers, and incense are daily offered.

Here is what the late Sir M. Monier-Williams said concerning the prescription offered by that popular sage, Buddha, as a cure for the misery of existence, which Buddha said proceeds from ignorance. "Before all things, he said, gain knowledge. Suppress all your desires, even the desire for life. Give yourself to abstract meditation. Keep your bodies in subjection. Do good to others; but, if you aim at a perfect state, abstain from all action, good or bad; for your own acts will generate a force which must re-create you, and all the sufferings, all the evils of life, proceed from indulging desires and performing actions which are bound by bonds of adamant to their inevitable consequences, and must entail their necessary expiation--not only in the present, but in endless successive bodily forms, till the final goal of personal extinction (Nirvana) is reached. Even God, if there be a God (for, like the Agnostics, Buddha asserted that it could not be proved), merely exercises a superintending control, in strict agreement with the immutable laws of retribution. He cannot break those laws; He cannot extricate you and me from the inexorable retributive force set in motion by our own deeds."

This is an awful creed--this belief in the consequences of our own evil actions pursuing us, like relentless avenging demons, through an endless series of existences, with no ray of light, no comforter, no deliverer! Yet it is the belief of almost all Asiatic people, and of about half the human race.

This gospel of Buddha is indeed a gospel of misery and despair. How vast is the gulf which separates it from the gospel of Jesus Christ! In the gospel of Buddha we are told that the whole world lieth in misery, illusion, and suffering ; while the Bible tells us "the whole world lieth in wickedness" (I John v. 19). Away with all suffering, stamp it out, for it is the plague of humanity, says Buddha. Glory in your sufferings; rejoice in them; make them steps toward heaven (2 Cor. xii. 10), says the Bible, for the Captain of your salvation was made perfect through suffering (Heb. ii. 9, 10).

Suppress your affections, says Buddha; sanctify them, says the Bible (Col. iii. 2). Get rid of your body as the greatest of all curses, says Buddha; cherish your body, and present it a living sacrifice to God, says the Bible (Rom. xii. i). We are our own workmanship, and no one works in us but ourselves, says Buddha; we are God's workmanship (Eph. ii. 10), and God works in us to desire and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. ii. 13), says the Bible.

Lastly, Buddhism stigmatizes all thirst for life as an ignorant blunder, and sets forth, as the highest of all aims, utter extinction of personal existence. While the Bible teaches us to prize life as a most precious gift; it tells us, to use the phraseology of the great American poet, "Life is real, life is earnest." It bids us thirst, not for death, nor for extinction, but for the Living God (Ps. lxiii. 1).

But what will the reader think when I tell him that this Buddhist religion--the writings of which are supposed to be so ancient--only existed in the form of oral traditions for centuries, which were never committed to writing until about 80 B.C. or about five hundred years after Buddha's death? This is the statement of Mahanama, the Buddhist historian, confirmed by Max Muller. Hence the hopeless uncertainty of all those writings.[7]

Yet in spite of all this it is mournful to observe how widespread is the influence of this Buddhist doctrine, even in our own land to-day, in its latest and most popular form--viz., that known as "Christian science," according to which, instead of sin being, as the Bible teaches, "the abominable thing that God hates" (Jer. xliv. 4), and as such the cause of all ills and of all suffering--see Gen. iii. 14-19, and note the words, "Because thou hast done this thing"--we are told that sin is "not a reality" at all, it is merely an "illusion."

Man's utter ruin by the fall, and his consequent alienation from God, as taught in the Bible, are accordingly altogether ignored, and we are told instead that there is something good in man--that, indeed, there are the elements of divinity there, which only need to be cultivated and developed.

Thus, while in some quarters, as in the case of the Unitarian, the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ is denied, and Christ is thus brought down to the level of a mere man; according to the teaching of Christian science--which is perhaps more popular, but equally blasphemous--man is practically exalted to the level of the Deity.

And so, by this subtle device of the arch--enemy of God and man, the new birth, which is so repugnant to the proud, natural heart of man, but on which the Bible lays so much stress (John iii. 7, etc.), is conveniently avoided, the doctrine of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ as the one atonement for sin is denied, and we are taught, like a "thief and a robber," to "climb up some other way" (John x. 1), albeit no power is offered us to enable us to climb the heights of "love and light and truth" of which they speak.

Thus it will be seen that this pleasing and attractive religion, known as Christian science, which is so popular, especially in fashionable circles to-day, is little more than a refined form of Buddhism; and its principal tenets--while professing to be founded on the Bible--are in reality diametrically opposed to its teaching and undermine its cardinal doctrines.

 

V. THE KORAN, THE CODE OF ISLAM, OR MOHAMMEDANISM

Muhammad (=the Praised One), commonly called Mohammed--the celebrated false prophet of Arabia--was born at Mecca A.D. 570. He claimed to teach his followers the doctrines of Islam--i.e., resignation or entire submission to the will of God, as a successor to Abraham, Moses, and Christ, of whom he claimed to be the greatest.

As a child he suffered from repeated epileptic fits, which were attributed at the time to demons; and all through life was subject to hysteria, spending much of his time in solitary contemplation. His nervousness, which often bordered on frenzy, brought him at times to the brink of suicide. Some of his so-called visions were so absurd that his staunchest adherents would often smile at his hallucinations; and, in his early days especially, he was looked upon as a madman.

His mind, however, contained the strangest mixture of right and wrong, of truth and error. His ideal was to unite Judaism and Christianity (of which he knew but very little; except in their most corrupt forms) and heathenism, into one new faith or religion; and hence the extraordinary mixture of his teaching.

At the age of forty he had his first "divine" communication. In this, and later visions at Mecca, and Medina, extending over a period of twenty-three years, he received those "revelations" which are contained in the "Koran," the sacred book of the Mohammedans, who believe that it has been in existence--ike God--from all eternity.

Koran is an Arabic word meaning to read. Its first transcript was, according to the Mohammedans, written from the beginning in rays of light by the finger of God upon a gigantic tablet resting upon the throne of the Almighty. A copy of it, in a book bound in white silk, jewels, and gold, was brought down by Gabriel on a particular night, called "the night of power," in the month of Ramadan (= the hot month). It was the contents of this book which were revealed to Mohammed from time to time during the twenty-three years above mentioned.

Here is the substance of its teaching as given by the late Sir M. Monier-Williams: "Muhammad claimed to speak to the whole human race in the name of the one God. Well, what was Muhammad's prescription for man's moral diseases, prescribed in his Koran? Cease, he said, from your idolatries; worship the one God; pay strict attention to your religious duties--prayers five times a day, fastings for the whole of one month, alms-giving, pilgrimages--and then trust to God's mercy, be resigned to His decrees, and look for a Paradise hereafter, a material condition of bliss-beautiful gardens, cloudless skies, running streams, and the companionship of lovely women."

The essence of its doctrine is found in the words "There is no god but God, and Mohammed is God's apostle." Indeed, the Koran was supposed to supersede the Gospel, as Mohammed claimed to supersede Christ.

But, alas! Mohammed was as unlike Christ as the Koran is unlike the Bible. His historian tells us that "he was at times deceitful, cunning, revengeful, cowardly, addicted to sensuality, and even a murderer."[8] Owing to his sensuality, Mohammed so increased the number of his wives that, in addition to those who died during his life-time, he had no less than nine wives living when he died; although, according to the Koran, his followers are only allowed four wives, and a certain number of concubines.

The logical outcome of such a nature is seen in his fleshly idea of future happiness, where "the black-eyed daughters of paradise, created of pure musk, and free from all bodily weaknesses of the female sex, are held out as a reward to the commonest inhabitant of paradise."

Unlike the Prince of Peace, Mohammed won his influence by the sword, and authorized his followers to go to war with the enemies of Islam--Jews and Christians being reckoned among those enemies. Indeed, his cruelty was notorious; after one battle he beheaded seven hundred men, and sold all the women and children-although he recommended his followers "to protect the weak, the poor, and the women," He died of fever at the age of sixty-three.

Eighty years after his death Mohammedanism reigned supreme over Arabia, Syria, Egypt, North Africa, and Spain, and to-day more than two hundred millions or thirteen per cent of the human race are Mohammedans.

Alas, however, it is the worst part of Mohammed's character--viz., his wanton cruelty--that has been most closely followed by his successors. So that, whatever good there may be in Mohammedanism, it is heavily counterbalanced by its system of slavery, and the degradation of women. Women are not even allowed in the mosque, lest their presence should be hurtful to true devotion.

Until the year 1924, the Khalif, or head of the Mohammedan religion, was the Sultan of Turkey, concerning whom Mohammedans declared: "Though the Khalif were hapless as Bayezid, cruel as Murad, or mad as Ibrahim, he is the shadow of God! " [9]

Now it is well known that that office was for years filled by that cruel monarch popularly known as "the Great Assassin," until, in the recent Turkish Revolution, he was driven from his throne and country by a disgusted populace.

Hence we read that "the religion of Islam is considered the bane of Eastern states and nations in our day." [10]

As for the Koran itself, it is significant that, while copies for the wealthy are sometimes written in gold with covers blazing with gold and precious stones, nevertheless, nothing is more hateful in the eyes of the Moslem than to see a copy of the Koran in the hands of the unbeliever. Moreover, the Koran, if translated into any other language than the original Arabic, is considered to be of absolutely no value whatever; and hence it is that Turkish, Persian, and Hindu Mussulmans never think of substituting Turkish, Persian, or Hindustani translations of the Koran, which they could understand, for the original Arabic text, which is as unintelligible to them as Hebrew is to most of us.

 

 CONCLUSION

A converted Chinaman once described his experiences in seeking deliverance from sin, thus: "I was once in the horrible pit of sin, and for years I cried to Buddha for help; but he replied, 'You must deaden your consciousness and imagine that you are not in the pit.'

"Then I sought help in Confucius, and his answer was, 'You should have followed my teaching, and then you would never have fallen into the pit.'

"At last I turned to Christ, and, with no word of rebuke, He descended into the pit, and, with His pierced hands, brought me up out of it; and we have been walking together ever since!"

So when we compare these sacred books of the East with the Bible--which is also an Eastern Book--we are at once struck with certain outstanding facts which constitute a difference no less than that which distinguishes darkness from light.

To begin with, nothing rejoices the Christian's heart more than to see the sinful, the outcast, the unbeliever, and the heathen reading the Word of God; which for his special benefit has been translated into more than six hundred different languages, and is being circulated broadcast throughout the world at the rate of twelve millions a year!

Indeed, at a public meeting in the Albert Hall, London, on November 7th, 1905, the Bishop of Manchester, speaking of the Bible as "God's message to the world," said: "The Bible Society would never be content until every member of every race had the Bible in his own language."

The reader will also have noticed how very little is really known of the date and authorship of most of these sacred books--some of them only having been committed to writing hundreds of years after the death of the Founder. So that their testimony, whatever it might otherwise be worth, is hopelessly invalidated.

But when we turn to the Bible, how different! It is like stepping off shifting sand on to the solid rock. Here we find indisputable evidence that every word of the New Testament, for example, was written by men who were contemporaries of our Lord.

Moreover, the wild imaginations and incredible absurdities of all those sacred books must forcibly appeal to every thoughtful mind--e.g., the story of Brahma and the golden egg; the nature worship of the Zend-Avesta; the lifeless and questionable morality of Confucius; the Buddhist doctrine of misery, protracted by transmigration and ending in annihilation; and the so-called visions of the hysterical Mohammed, based on the silk-bound and jewelled Koran, brought down from heaven by Gabriel.

Yet, such is the heart of man, that, notwithstanding all these absurdities, millions of devotees believe those books to be so absolutely divine that all criticism of their contents is prohibited.

Compare all this, however, with the sublime common sense of the Bible; its sober account of creation, attested by the latest scientific discoveries; its condemnation of sin in every form, its care for the widow and orphan, its righteous scheme of redemption, its living and personal God, and its certain and glorious future hope. And then remember that this Book has been subjected to more criticism than any other book in the world, and has stood and withstood the test all through the centuries!

Again, the teaching of the Bible is based on historical fact, while in most, if not all, of those other sacred books the historical element is wholly wanting.

Moreover, there is a divine strength and vigour about the Bible that none of the other books possess. For example, among the nine rules of conduct for the Buddhist there is one that diects him never either to think or to say that his own religion is the best! When, however, we turn to the Bible, we hear a voice which speaks with no such uncertain sound. There Christ says, "I am the Way [indicating that there is no other way], the Truth [indicating that all that is contrary to His teaching is error], and the Life--indicating that there is no life apart from Him; and then, shutting every other door of access, He adds, "No man cometh unto the Father but by Me" (John xiv. 6).

Therefore, says the Bible, with a strength and vigour that we should expect from such a Book, "If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings xviii. 21); for "No man can serve two masters" (Matt. vi. 24).

Again: "The one key-note, the one diapason, the one refrain which is found running through all those sacred books, is salvation by works. They all declare that salvation must be purchased, must be bought with a price, and that the sole price, the sole purchase-money must be our own works and deservings." [11]

Put on, say they, the garment of self-righteousness; cling closely to it,--and hence the popularity of these Eastern religions; for the pride of self-righteousness is very dear to the human heart. Like a tight-fitting innner garment, it is the first to be put on, the last to be put off.

How different is the Bible teaching! There we are told, "By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. ii. 8, 9); and therefore, unlike those other books, it says, Put off the pride of thy self-righteousness: it is a filthy garment, utterly unfit to cover the nakedness of thy soul in the presence of a holy God! (Isa. lxiv. 6; Rev. iii. 18).

Yet once more, all those sacred books will be searched in vain to discover the least hint that the founder of any one of them delivered his followers from the miseries of which those writings speak, by voluntarily sacrificing himself on their behalf, and then rising again from the dead and becoming their support and guide, by sending his Spirit into their hearts and lives; and yet this is the central truth of the Bible, "That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (I Cor. xv. 3, 4), and that " God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father" (Gal. iv. 6). No Eastern religion has such a name for God as "Father," and some of them have no god at all!

And while to the Christian who believes in the Bible "that other shore" is his heavenly Father's home of perfect bliss, from which he will go out no more (Rev. iii. 12), to the Buddhists it conveys no such idea. Existence even in heaven is both transient and miserable--so that "that other shore," for which they vainly sigh, is that awful, dark, cold, lifeless nothingness called annihilation, which only three or four favoured souls have ever been able to reach!

Again, none of those sacred books demand an inward change--at best they merely aim at outward reformation, and leave the heart, the mainspring of the life, untouched. Here also the Bible stands alone. Like a wise physician, it goes to the root of the evil and says, "Ye must be born again" (John iii. 7).

The late Sir M. Monier-Williams, Boden Professor of Sanscrit, who spent forty-two years--probably more than any other man--in the study of the sacred books of the East, tells how when he commenced to look into them he "met with bright coruscations of true light, flashing here and there amid the surrounding darkness"; and he began to think that these books had been unjustly treated, and that, after all, "they were intended to lead up to the one true religion." Further study, however, led him to abandon utterly such a theory. "I am persuaded that I was misled," he says, "by its attractiveness, and that its main idea is quite erroneous." He then calls attention to the wonderful progressive development which marks our Bible, as it does all God's works-the light of revelation gradually unfolding, till the perfect illumination of the epistles and Revelation of St. John is reached; and adds, "So far from this, these non-Christian Bibles are all developments in the wrong direction. They all begin with some flashes of true light, and end in utter darkness. Pile them, if you will, on the left side of your table; but place your own Holy Bible on the right side--all by itself, all alone--and with a wide gap between them." For, he added, there is "a gulf between it and the so-called sacred books of the East which severs the one from the other utterly, hopelessly, and for ever; not a mere rift which may be easily closed up--not a mere rift across which the Christian may shake hands and interchange similar ideas in regard to essential truths--but a veritable gulf, which cannot be bridged over by any science of religious thought; yes, a bridgeless chasm, which no theory of evolution can ever span."

Therefore let those who trust in themselves that they are righteous, and despise others, betake themselves to those other so-called sacred books. Wellsuited are the scriptures of Brahmans, Moslems, Buddhists, and Parsees to all who seek to stand before God in the rags of their own self-righteousness. But to dying sinners such books are worse than useless; to lepers seamed and scarred with the leprosy of guilt they are worse than a mockery: for they tell not of the one Physician, they offer no balm, they provide no healing remedy.

The late Sir Frederick Treves, speaking of the three hundred million of people in India, told how they are so terrified by demons, or by the burden of sins that they believe they have committed in some previous existence, that "a smile, except on the face of a child, is uncommon! "[12] Oh, who shall describe the bitter sadness which that must mean to those millions of human hearts?-most of whom are under the spell of one or other of those sacred books of the East.

What poor, guilty, fallen humanity craves for is a very different book,--a book which tells of a remedy for hearts polluted with unholy imaginations; for the thief, the murderer, the reprobate, the outcast; for this tainted, this groaning, this travailing, this sinstained world. And such a Book is the Bible.

It blesses little children (Matt. xix. 14). It makes young men strong (1 John ii. 14), and young women pure and chaste (I Tim. V.2, and Titus ii. 4 and 5). It protects the widow (Exod. xxii. 22, 23), and honours the grey hairs of the aged (Lev. xix. 32); and offers eternal life freely to all who will accept it by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John lii. 36).

The father of the late Lord Chancellor Herschell has told the world how, when he was a poor Jew in London, and in great sorrow over the death of his mother, he bought some groceries which were wrapped up in a leaf of the New Testament. On the creased, soiled page he read, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." Those and other words like them on the same precious page went to his heart, and comforted his troubled, mourning spirit. He purchased a copy of the New Testament, read its contents, found peace and forgiveness of sins through Christ, and was afterwards the means of leading five of his brothers to accept Christ as their Messiah.

Yes, it has been truly written, the Bible is a-

Lamp for the feet that in by-ways have wandered;
Guide for the youth that would otherwise fall;
Hope for the sinner whose life has been squandered;
Staff of the aged, and best Book for all !

We are living now in times of grievous unsettlement. The fountains of the great deep are being broken up around us. Men are everywhere drifting from their old moorings, from the anchorage to which their fathers trusted, tossed hither and thither by every gust of criticism and every wind of false philosophy. In such times there is but one shelter, one covert from the tempest, one haven of rest; it is revealed in our own sacred volume, the Bible.

Therefore, "Let us teach the Hindus, Zoroastrians, Confucianists, Buddhists, and Mohammedans that there is only one sacred book that can be their mainstay and guide through life, and their support in that awfal hour when they pass all alone into the unseen world. There is only one book to be clasped to the heart, only one gospel that can give peace to the fainting soul then. . . It is the sacred volume which contains that faithful saying worthy to be accepted by all men, women, and children in the east and in the west, in the north and in the south, 'that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!'"

[1]. Chambers Encyclopedia.
[2]. Dr. Ogilvie.
[3]. Chambers' Encyclopaedia.
[4]. Sir M. Monier-Williams
[5]. Chambers' Encyclopaedia.
[6]. The Light of Asia and the Light of the World, Kellogg.
[7]. The Light of Asia and the Light of the World, Kellogg.
[8]. Chambers' EncycIopaedia.
[9]. Times, July 18th, 1906.
[10]. Chambers' Encyclopaedia.
[11]. Sir M. Monier-Williams.
[12]. The Other Side of the Lantern.


All About The Bible. Sidney Collett. Fleming H. Revell Co., Westwood, N.J. 1959, pages 289-317.