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E. Stanley Jones

Sermon on the Mount

An excerpt from author E. Stanley Jones, from his book Christ of the Mount.

 

Among the many things which India has taught me are two outstanding: First, she compelled me to disentangle Christ from the accretions which the centuries had gathered around him. It was a liberating experience to find one’s faith becoming simplified and centered in a Person. For years I have walked in that liberty; but for several years there has been an undertone of questioning, and rather troubled questioning. The question was this: Yes, Christ is the center, and to be a Christian is to catch his mind and his spirit, but what main content should be in those words-“Christ,” “Christian”? It is not enough to have the words. The deeper question concerns the content that is to be in the words. For the content varies, and varies vitally. So India has taught me the second thing: the main moral content in the word “Christian” must be the Sermon on the Mount.

India is forcing us to face anew the Sermon on the Mount. She insists that this is Christianity. No matter how much we may point to our creeds she insists on pointing us to the pattern shown her in the Mount. The fact is the Sermon on the Mount is not in our creeds. As the Apostles’ Creed now stands you can accept every word of it and leave the essential self untouched. Suppose we had written it in our creeds and had repeated each time with conviction: “I believe in the Sermon on the Mount and in its way of life, and I intend, God helping me, to embody it”! What would have happened? I feel sure that if this had been our main emphasis, the history of Christendom would have been different. With emphasis on doctrines which left unaffected our way of life the Christian Church could accept Constantine as its prize convert. And yet Constantine, after his alleged conversion, murdered his conquered colleague and brother-in-law Licinius; sentenced to death his eleven-year-old nephew, killed his eldest son, Crispus; brought about the death of his second wife; took the nails that were supposed to have come from the cross of Christ and used one in his war helmet and another on the bridle of his war horse. Yet he was canonized by the Greek Church and his memory celebrated “as equal to the apostles.” He talked and presided at the opening of the Council of Nicaea, which was called to frame a creed, and he was hailed as “a bishop of bishops.” Could this have happened if the men who had gathered there had made the Sermon on the Mount an essential part of the Creed? It had no place in it, so Constantine could be at home. What had happened was that the Christian Church had been conquered by a pagan warrior. And the church allowed itself to be thus conquered, for this ideal of Christ did not have possession of its soul…These things sound strange to our ears, but it is only because the ideas of the Sermon on the Mount are reasserting their ascendency over our spirit and are beginning to come back as central in the thinking of the Christian.

 

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