“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6.10 NKJV)
One of the greatest discoveries of the nineteenth century has been the fact that God is working to a plan. We call the realization of that outstanding truth a discovery because that is precisely what it is. In a century which opened an era of invention and knowledge, such as the world had never previously known, that stands out as a most important achievement, full of tremendous meaning for the future of mankind. Christianity has been left with a sad legacy of inadequate understanding of God from the time of intellectual decline that we call the Dark Ages. During the slow progress of nearly a thousand years the clear faith and fervent hope that had inspired the Apostles and the early Church became obscured, and in large measure was lost in the chaos and confusion that followed the break-up of Roman civilization in Europe. The rise of Latin institutional Christianity, adulterated as it was, with the ritual and the doctrines of the pagan religions it superseded, did little to preserve the plain and simple faith of Jesus, but much to darken His teachings and those of the prophets, His predecessors. The hosts of the Moslem world sweeping across Europe in the eighth century, the Asiatic hordes that succeeded them, and the feudal serfdom into which all of Europe was plunged, during those dark times, all but blotted out from the minds of men any real understanding of Christianity, despite the persistence of religious observances and church worship. Only in a few monasteries and abbeys—such as that at Jarrow, in this country, for a great time the leading center of knowledge in the land—did any kind of learning survive. A few saintly men of God in such institutions endeavoured to preserve the sacred books, which they realised contained the word of life; a few equally understanding individuals among the people outside passed down from father to son stories of Jesus and of His life, but for the most part Christianity and superstition were inexplicably mingled and anything like an orderly conception of God’s ways was unknown. At a time when nearly every monastery or other centre of ordered life was subject to raids and plunder by robber barons and unscrupulous kings, it is not surprising that the emphasis fell upon spiritual contemplation of the next world in the endeavour to escape from the wickedness in this. We ought not to be surprised that those times fostered the idea which has wrought such havoc in the Christian Church, that the only aim and purpose of the Christian life is to gain ultimate entrance to heaven and inherit the white garments and golden harps, and witness the burning up and utter destruction of this world as a thing too wicked to endure.