Eastern Religions and Christianity






The following lectures, prepared amid many cares and duties, have aimed to deal only with practical questions which are demanding attention in our time. They do not claim to constitute a treatise with close connections and a logical order. Each presents a distinct topic, or a particular phase of the present conflict of Christian truth with the errors of the non-Christian religions. This independent treatment must constitute my apology for an occasional repetition of important facts or opinions which have a common bearing on different discussions. No claim is made to scholarship in the Oriental languages. The ability to compare original sources and determine dates and intricate meanings of terms, or settle points in dispute by a wide research in Sanskrit or Pali literatures, can only be obtained by those who spend years in study along these special lines. But so many specialists have now made known the results of their prolonged linguistic studies in the form of approved English translations, that, as Professor Max Mueller has well said in his introduction to “The Sacred Books of the East,” “there is no longer any excuse for ignorance of the rich treasures of Oriental Literature.”

Two considerations lend special importance to the topics here discussed.  First, that the false systems in question belong not merely to the past, but to our own time. And second, that the increased intercommunication of this age brings us into closer contact with them. They are no longer afar off and unheard of, nor are they any longer lying in passive slumber. Having received quickening influences from our Western civilization, and various degrees of sympathy from certain types of Western thought, they have become aggressive and are at our doors.

On controverted points I have made frequent quotations, for the reason that the testimonies or opinions of writers of acknowledged competency are best given in their own words.

I have labored under a profound conviction that, whatever may be the merit and success of these modest efforts, the general class of subjects treated is destined to receive increased attention in the near future; that the Christian Church will not long be content to miscalculate the great conquest which she is attempting against the heathen systems of the East and their many alliances with the infidelity of the West. And I am cheered with a belief that, in proportion to the intelligent discrimination which shall be exercised in judging of the non-Christian religions, and the skill which shall be shown in presenting the immensely superior truths of the Christian faith, will the success of the great work of Missions be increased.

It scarcely needs to be said that I have not even attempted to give anything like a complete view of the various systems of which I have spoken. Only a few salient points have been touched upon, as some practical end has required. But if the mere outline here given shall lead any to a fuller investigation of the subjects discussed, I shall be content. I am satisfied that the more thoroughly the Gospel of Redemption is compared with the futile systems of self-righteousness which man has devised, the more wonderful it will appear.

F.F. ELLINWOOD.  NEW YORK, January 20, 1892.


The lectures contained in this volume were delivered to the students of Union Theological Seminary in the year 1891, as one of the courses established in the Seminary by Mr. Zebulon Stiles Ely, in the following terms:

“The undersigned gives the sum of ten thousand dollars to the Union Theological Seminary of the city of New York, to found a lectureship in the same, the title of which shall be ‘The Elias P.  Ely Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity.’

“The course of lectures given on this foundation is to comprise any topics that serve to establish the proposition that Christianity is a religion from God, or that it is the perfect and final form of religion for man.

“Among the subjects discussed may be:

“The Nature and Need of a Revelation;

“The Character and Influence of Christ and his Apostles;

“The Authenticity and Credibility of the Scriptures, Miracles, and Prophecy;

“The Diffusion and Benefits of Christianity; and

“The Philosophy of Religion in its Relation to the Christian System.

“Upon one or more of such subjects a course of ten public lectures shall be given, at least once in two or three years. The appointment of the lecturer is to be by the concurrent action of the directors and faculty of said Seminary and the undersigned; and it shall ordinarily be made two years in advance.”





The New “Science of Religion” to be Viewed with Discrimination—The Study of the Oriental Systems too Long a Monopoly of Anti-Christian Scholars—The Changed Aspects of the Missionary Work—The Significant Experience of Ziegenbalz—Fears Entertained in Reference to this Subject by Timid Believers—The Different View taken of the Old Heathen Systems of Greece and Rome—The Subject Considered from the Standpoint of Missionary Candidates—The Testimony of Intelligent and Experienced Missionaries—Reasons for Studying Oriental Systems Found in the Increased Intercourse of the Nations; in the Intellectual Quickening of Oriental Minds by Education; in the Resistance and even Aggressiveness of Heathen Systems; in the Diversities of the Buddhist Faith in Different Lands—False Systems to be Studied with a Candid Spirit—The Distinction to be Drawn between Religion and Ethics—Reasons why a Missionary should Pursue these Studies before Arriving on his Field—Reasons why the Ministry at Home Should Acquaint Themselves with Heathen Systems—Their Active Alliance with Various Forms of Western Infidelity—Intellectual Advantages to be Derived from such Studies—A Broader and Warmer Sympathy with Universal Humanity to be Gained—A Better Understanding of the Unique Supremacy of the Gospel as the Only Hope of the World—Pastors at Home are also Missionaries to the Heathen—They are Sharers in the Conflict through the Press.




The Coincidences of the Present Struggle with that of the First Christian Centuries—The Mediaeval Missionary Work of a Simple Character—That of India, Japan, China, and the Turkish Empire a Severe Intellectual Struggle as well as a Spiritual Conquest—Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Islam, present Obstacles and Resistances Similar to those of Ancient Greece and Rome—How far Contrasts Appear between the Early and the Present Conquests—The Methods of Paul—His Tact in Recognizing Truth wherever Found, and Using it for his Purpose—The Attitude of the Early Christian Fathers toward the Heathen—Augustine’s Acknowledgment of the Good which he Received from Cicero and Plato—The Important Elements which Platonism Lacked, and which were Found Only in the Gospel of Christ—The Great Secret of Power in the Early Church Found in its Moral Earnestness, as Shown by Simplicity of Life, and especially by Constancy even Unto a Martyr’s Death—The Contrast between the Frugality of the Early Church and the Luxury and Vice of Roman Society—The Great Need of this Element of Success at the Present Time—The Observance of a Wise Discrimination in the Estimate of Heathen Philosophy by the Great Leaders of the Early Church—The Generality with which Classical Studies were Pursued by the Sons of the more Enlightened Christian Fathers—Method Among the Leaders—The Necessity for a thorough Knowledge of the Systems to be Met, as it was then Recognized—The thorough Preparation of Augustine, Ambrose, Iraeneus, and Others for their Work—Origen’s Masterly and Successful Reply to Celsus—The Use Made by the Early Fathers and by the Churches of a Later Day, of the Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle—Heathenism thus Conquered with its Own Weapons.




The Great Variety in India’s Religious Systems—The Early Monotheistic Nature Worship and its Gradual Lapse Into Polytheism—The Influence of Environment on the Development of Systems—The Distinction between Aryanism and Brahmanism, and the Abuses of the Latter in its Doctrines of Sacrifice and Caste—The Causes which Led to the Overthrow of this System of Sacerdotalism—The Upanishads and the Beginnings of Philosophy—The Rise of Buddhism and the Six Schools of Philosophy—Points in Common between them—The Code of Manu and its Countercheck to Rationalism—Its Development and its Scope, its Merits and Demerits—The Meaning of the Word Hinduism as here Used and the Means by which it Gained Ascendancy—The Place and Influence of the Two Great Hindu Epics, their Origin, the Compromise which they Wrought, and the New and Important Doctrines which They Developed—The Trimurti and the Incarnations of Vishnu—The Deterioration of the Literature and the Faith of India—The Puranas and the Tantras—The Parallels between Hinduism and Christianity.




The Great Interest Felt in this Poem by a Certain Class of Readers—Its Alleged Parallels to the Scriptures—The Plausibility of the Recent Translation by Mr. Mohini M. Chatterji—Its Patronizing Catholicity—The Same Claim to Broad Charity by Chunder Sen and Others—Pantheism Sacrifices nothing to Charity, because God is in All Things—All Moral Responsibility Ceases since God Acts in Us—Mr. Chatterji’s Broad Knowledge of Our Scriptures, and his Skill in Selecting Passages for His Purpose—His Pleasing Style—The Story of Krishna and Arjuna Told in the Interest of Caste and Pantheism—The Growth of the Krishna Cult from Popular Legends—The Origin of the Bhagavad Gita and its Place in the Mahabharata—Its Use of the Six Philosophies—Krishna’s Exhortation—The Issue of the Battle in which Arjuna is Urged to Engage—The “Resemblances” Explained by their Pantheistic Interpretation—Fancied Resemblances which are only in the Sound of Words—Coincidences Springing from Similar Causes—The Totally Different Meaning which Pantheism gives them—Difference between Union with Christ and the Pantheistic Pervasion of the Infinite—The Differentials of Christianity.




New Interest in Old Controversies Concerning Buddhism—Max Mueller’s Reply to the Alleged Influence of the System on Christianity—The Distinction to be made between the Credible History of Gautama and Later Legends—The Legends of the Pre-existent States and the Wonders Attending the Earthly Life—The Northern and the Southern Buddhism—The Sources of the Principal Legends—The Four Principal Doctrines of Buddhism, Skandas, Trishna, Kharma, and Nirvana—Difficulties in the Doctrines of Kharma and Nirvana—Various Opinions of Scholars in Regard to the Nature of Nirvana—Buddha’s Final Reticence on the Subject—The Real Goal at which the Average Buddhist Aims—The Need of a Careful Estimate of the Merits and Demerits of Buddhism, and of the Hold which it is likely to have on Western Minds—Its Points of Contact with Western Errors—The Fact that Modern Buddhism, like many other False Systems, Claims Christ as a Believer in its Principles—The Theory that the Life of Christ is Modeled after that of the Buddha—The Superior Authenticity of the Life of Christ—The Unreliable Character of Buddhist Legends—The Intrinsic Improbability that a Religion claiming a Distinct Derivation from Jewish Sources would Borrow from a far-off Heathen System—The Contrast of Christ’s Loving Recognition of the Father in Heaven with the Avowed Atheism of Buddhism—The General Spirit of the System Forbids all Thought of Borrowing from it—Points of Contrast.




Posthumous Legends of Mohammed; how they were Produced—Ancient Arabia and its Religious Systems—The Vale of Mecca and its Former Uses—The Birth of Mohammed, and his Religious Associations—His Temperament and Character—The Beginnings of his Prophetic Mission—Jews and Christians in Arabia and their Influence on Mohammedanism—Their Errors and Shortcomings a Help to the Reformer—Strange Doctrines of the Christian Church in Arabia—The Lost Opportunity of the Early Christian Sects and the Fatal Neglect of the Surrounding Nations—The Nomads of Arabia specially Prepared for Conquest by their Manner of Life and their Enlistment as Mercenary Soldiers—The Question of Mohammed’s Real Character—The Growth of his Ambition and his Increasing Sensuality and Cruelty—Blasphemous Revelations in Behalf of the Prophet’s Own Lust—Discriminating Judgment Required on his Career as a Whole—Mohammedan Schools—Noble Characters the Exception—General Corrupting Influence of the System—Its Conquests in Northern Africa and in the Sudan—The Early Races of Northern Africa, and the General Deterioration of the Country—The Piracies of the Barbary States—Civilization in Modern Egypt Due to Foreigners—The Bloody Ravages of El Mahdi in the East and the Fanatic Samadu in the West—The Testimony of a Secular Newspaper Correspondent—Professor Drummond and Henry M. Stanley on the Slave Traffic and Mohammedan Civilization—The Alleged Missionary Operations of Mohammedans in West Sudan—The Account Given of Them by Bishop Crowther, Schweinfurth, and Others—Canon Taylor and the Egyptian Pashas—The Effects of European Education—Palgrave on Mohammedan Intolerance of To-day—Mohammedanism and Temperance; Exaggerated Accounts of it; Proofs to the Contrary—R. Bosworth Smith’s Protest against Canon Taylor’s Extravagant Glorification of Islam—His Plea for Missions.




Two Conflicting Theories on the History of Religion—That of the Old and New Testaments—That of Modern Evolution—The Importance of this Question—Professor Henry B. Smith’s Estimate of Ebrard’s Discussion of it—Ebrard’s Summing-up of the Argument—Professor Naville’s View of the Subject—Conclusions of Rev. W.A.P. Martin, D.D., and Max Mueller—How far May we Attempt to Establish the Fact of an Early Monotheism from Heathen Traditions?–Conceptions Differing in Different Nations—Evidences of Monotheism in the Vedas—Professor Banergea’s Testimony—The Views Held by the Modern Somajes—Monotheism in China—Monotheistic Worship in the Days of Yao and Shun, 2300 B.C.—The Prayer of an Emperor of the Ming Dynasty Quoted by Professor Legge—Remarkable Monument of Monotheism in the Temple of Heaven—A Taouist Prayer—Zoroaster a Monotheistic Reformer—The Inscription at Behistun—Testimony of the Modern Parsee Catechism—No Nation without some Notion of a God Supreme over All—Buddhists in Tibet—Egyptian Monotheism—The Greek Poets—Old Monotheism in Mexico and Peru—Evidences of Ramification and Decline in Polytheism—Egypt and India Give Abundant Proofs—Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism all Show Degeneration—Mohammedan Corruption since the Days of the Early Caliphs—The Religions of Greece and Rome Became Effete—Even Israel, in Spite of Instruction and Reproof, Lapsed into Idolatry again and again—Even the Christian Church has Shown Similar Tendencies.




The Universality and Similarity of Race Traditions—Their General Support of the Old Testament History—Traditions of the Creation Found in India, China, among the Northern Turanians and some African Tribes—The Fall of Man as Traced in Assyria and among the Hindus—The Buddhists of Ceylon, Mongolians, Africans and Tahitians had Similar Traditions—The Flood—Traditions of the Chinese, the Iranians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Peruvians—The Prevalence of Piacular Sacrifice and Tokens of a Sense of Guilt—Traditions or Traces of Substitution Found in the Vedas—Faint Traces in the Religion of the Egyptians—Traditions of the Iroquois—Prophecies Looking to Divine Deliverers—The Tenth Avatar of Vishnu yet to Come as a Restorer of Righteousness—The Influence of the Tradition as Utilized by a Missionary—A Norse Deliverer and Millennium—The Prediction of the Cumaean Sibyl Forty Years before the Birth of Christ—Prevailing Conceptions of some Mediator between God and Man—The Hindu Krishna as an Example—Changes in Buddhism from the Old Atheism to Theism, and even to a Doctrine of Salvation by Faith—A Trinity and at last a Savior—All the False Systems Claiming the Teachings and the Character of Christ.




The Prevalence of Speculation in all Ages in Regard to the Great Questions of Man’s Origin and Destiny, and His Relations to God—The Various Schemes which have Seemingly Dispensed with the Necessity for a Creator in Accounting for the Existence of the Visible World—The Ancient Atomic Theories and Modern Evolution—Kanada, Lucretius, Herbert Spencer—Darwin’s Theory of the Development of Species—Similar Theories Ascribed to the Chinese—The Ethical Difficulties Attending Many Philosophic Speculations, Ancient and Modern—Hindu Pantheism and Moral Responsibility—In the Advance from Instinct to Conscience and Religion, where does Moral Sentiment Begin?–If It was Right for Primeval Man to Maraud, why Might not Robbery again Become His Duty in Case of Extreme Deterioration?–Mr. Spencer’s Theory of the Origin of Moral Intuition—The Nobler Origin which the Scriptures Assign to Man’s Moral Nature—The Demonstrated Possibility of the Most Radical and Sudden Moral Changes Produced by the Christian Faith—Tendency of Ancient and Modern Theories to Lower the General Estimate of Man—The Dignity with which the New Testament Invests Him—The Ethical Tendency of the Doctrine of Evolution—The Opinion Expressed on the Subject by Goldwin Smith—Peschel’s Frank Admission—The Pessimistic Tendency of all Anti-Biblical Theories of Man’s Origin, Life, and Destiny—Buddha, Schopenhauer, and the Agnostics—The more Hopeful Influence of the Bible—The Tendency of all Heathen Religions and all Anti-Christian Philosophies toward Fatalism—Pantheism and the Philosophy of Spinoza Agreeing in this Respect with the Hindu Vedantism—The Late Samuel Johnson’s “Piety of Pantheism,” and His Definition of Fatalism—What Saves the Scriptural Doctrine of Fore-ordination from Fatalism—The Province of Faith and of Trust.




The Claim that Christianity is the only True Religion—The Peculiar Tendencies of Modern Times to Deny this Supremacy and Monopoly—It is not Enough in Such Times to Simply Ignore the Challenge—The Unique Claim must be Defended—First: Christianity is Differentiated from all Other Religions by the Fact of a Divine Sacrifice for Sin—Mohammedanism, though Founded on a Belief in the True God and Partly on the Old Testament Teachings, Offers no Savior—No Idea of Fatherhood is Found in any Non-Christian Faith—The Gloom of Buddhism and the Terror of Savage Tribes—Hinduism a System of Self-Help Merely—The Recognized Grandeur of the Principle of Self-Sacrifice as Reflected from Christ—Augustine Found a Way of Life only in His Divine Sacrifice—Second: No Other Faith than Christianity is Made Effectual by the Power of a Divine and Omnipotent Spirit—The Well-Attested Fact of Radical Transformations of Character—Other Systems have Made Converts only by Warlike Conquest or by Such Motives as might Appeal to the Natural Heart—Christianity Rises above all Other Systems in the Divine Personality of Christ—The Contrast in this Respect between Him and the Authors of the Non-Christian Systems—His Attractions and His Power Acknowledged by all Classes of Men—The Inferiority of Socrates as Compared with Christ—Bushnell’s Tribute to the Perfection of this Divine Personality—Its Power Attested in the Life of Paul—The Adaptation of Christianity to all the Circumstances and Conditions of Life—Abraham and the Vedic Patriarchs, Moses and Manu, David’s Joy and Gratitude, and the Gloom of Hindu or Buddhist Philosophy—Only Christianity Brings Man to True Penitence and Humility—The Recognized Beauty and the Convincing Lesson of the Prodigal Son—The Contrast between Mohammed’s Blasphemous Suras, which Justify his Lust, and the Deep Contrition of David in the Fifty-first Psalm—The Moral Purity of the Old and New Testaments as Contrasted with all Other Sacred Books—The Scriptures Pure though Written in Ages of Corruption and Surrounded by Immoral Influences—Christ Belongs to no Land or Age—The Gospel Alone is Adapted to all Races and all Time as the Universal Religion of Mankind—Only Christianity Recognizes the True Relation between Divine Help and Human Effort—It Encourages by Omnipotent Co-operation—The All-Comprehensive Presentation of the Gospel.