“But I have only taken this as the first and most evident case of the general truth: that the great ideals of the past failed not by being outlived (which must mean over-lived), but by not being lived enough. Mankind has not passed through the Middle Ages. Rather mankind has retreated from the Middle Ages in reaction and rout. The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried” (G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With The World, chapter 5).
I’ve heard the last line of this passage quoted often, but I have never heard it in context until I read it today. The context sheds some great light onto what Chesterton was talking about.
Usually when this sentence is quoted, it is referring to people refusing to believe in the claims of Christianity based on difficulty of doctrine. But the quotation as Chesterton wrote it is talking more about history than doctrine.
It is true that if you look only on the history of Christianity, you will find all sorts of atrocities, murders, intrigues, and heresies. You will find all sorts of people misrepresenting the gospel message, but unfortunately the misrepresentation is usually not as obvious as the evil deeds, and people are mislead into believing that the deeds actually reflect biblical Christianity.
It is true that if you look at the history of Christianity, you find all sorts of difficulties as a result of evil men doing evil things in the name of God. This is the difficulty being referred to, that which causes people to refuse to even look at Christianity seriously. This is a shame.
For it is not that Christianity at its historical and theological root is wanting. As has been discussed in other posts, history is actually on the side of the Bible. Likewise it’s theology is logical, although it may seem illogical if not looked at through an honest light of the reality of the condition of the souls of men. I am convinced that anyone who honestly seeks after the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ will find that truth, and if it is tested it will indeed be found to be True. The problem is that the history of the living out of Christianity has been flawed to say the very least. I cannot deny that. And these flaws have caused many to outright reject the message of the cross.
If you are one of these, I encourage you to look not at the way people have distorted the truth, but at the true truth itself. Examine not the lives of men but the message of the gospel. Put everything you can think of under the microscope. God will show himself even there.