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AT the close of the last lecture I referred to the Beatitudes, and mentioned that they exhibit Jesus’ religion in a particularly impressive way. I desire to remind you of another passage which shows that Jesus recognised the practical proof of religion to consist in the exercise of neighbourly love and mercy. In one of his last discourses he spoke of the Judgment, bringing it before his hearers’ eyes in the parable of the shepherd separating the sheep from the goats. The sole principle of separation is the question of mercy. The question is raised by asking whether men gave food and drink to Jesus himself, and visited him; that is to say, it is put as a religious question. The paradox is then resolved in the sentence: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” We can have no clearer illustration of the fact that in Jesus’ view mercy was the quality on which everything turned, and that the temper in which it is exercised is the guarantee that a man’s religious position is the right one. How so? Because in exercising this virtue 82men are imitating God: “Be merciful, even as your Father in heaven is merciful.” He who exercises mercy exercises God’s prerogative; for God’s justice is not accomplished by keeping to the rule, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but is subject to the power of His mercy.

Let us pause here for a moment. The history of religion marked an enormous advance, religion itself was established afresh, when through poets and thinkers in Greece on the one hand, and through the prophets in Palestine on the other, the idea of righteousness and a righteous God became a living force and transformed tradition. The gods were raised to a higher level and civilised; the warlike and capricious Jehovah became a holy Being in whose court of judgment a man might trust, albeit in fear and trembling. The two great provinces of religion and morality, hitherto separated, were now brought into close relation; for “the Godhead is holy and just.” It is our history that was then developed; for without that all-important transformation there would be no such thing as “mankind,” no such thing as a “history of the world” in the higher sense. The most immediate result of this development may be summed up in the maxim: “What ye would not that men should do unto you, do ye also not unto them.” Insufficient and prosaic as the rule may seem, yet, if extended so 83as to cover all human relationships and really observed, it contains a civilising force of enormous strength.

But it does not contain the ultimate step. Not until justice was compelled to give way to mercy, and the idea of brotherhood and self-sacrifice in the service of one’s neighbour became paramount—another re-establishment of religion—was the last advance accomplished that it was possible and necessary to make. Its maxim, “What ye would that men should do unto you, do ye also unto them,” also seems prosaic; and yet rightly understood it leads to the summit and comprises a new method of apprehension, and a new way of judging one’s own life. The thought that “he who loses his life shall save it,” runs side by side with this maxim and effects a transvaluation of values, in the certainty that a man’s true life is not tied to this span of time and is not rooted in material existence.

I hope that I have thus shown, although briefly, that in the sphere of thought which is indicated by “the higher righteousness” and “the new commandment of love” Jesus’ teaching is also contained in its entirety. As a matter of fact, the three spheres which we have distinguished—the kingdom of God, God as the Father and the infinite value of the human soul, and the higher righteousness showing itself in love—coalesce; for ultimately 84the kingdom is nothing but the treasure which the soul possesses in the eternal and merciful God. It needs only a few touches to develop this thought into everything that, taking Jesus’ sayings as its groundwork, Christendom has known and strives to maintain as hope, faith, and love.

To proceed: Now that we have established the fundamental characteristics of Jesus’ message, let us try, in the second place, to treat of the main bearings of the Gospel as applied to individual problems. There are six points or questions which call for special attention, as being the most important in themselves, and consequently felt and regarded as such in all ages. And although, in the course of the Church’s history, one or other of these questions may have passed into the background for a decade or two, it has always reappeared afresh, and with redoubled force:—

(1) The Gospel and the world, or the question of asceticism;

(2) The Gospel and the poor, or the social question;

(3) The Gospel and law, or the question of public order;

(4) The Gospel and work, or the question of civilisation;

(5) The Gospel and the Son of God, or the Christological question;


(6) The Gospel and doctrine, or the question of creed.

By these six questions—the first four hang together, and the last two stand by themselves—I hope to be able to exhibit, of course only in outline, the most important bearings of Jesus’ message.

(1) The Gospel and the world, or the question of asceticism.

There is a widespread opinion—it is dominant in the Catholic churches and many Protestants share it nowadays—that, in the last resort and in the most important things which it enjoins, the Gospel is a strictly world-shunning and ascetic creed. Some people proclaim this piece of intelligence with sympathy and admiration; nay, they magnify it into the contention that the whole value and meaning of genuine Christianity, as of Buddhism, lies in its world-denying character. Others emphasise the world-shunning doctrines of the Gospel in order thereby to expose its incompatibility with modern ethical principles, and to prove its uselessness as a religion. The Catholic churches have found a curious way out of the difficulty and one which is, in reality, a product of despair. They recognise, as I have said, the world-denying character of the Gospel, and they teach, accordingly, that it is only in the form of monasticism—that is, in the “vita religiosa86—that true Christian life finds its expression. But they admit a “lower” kind of Christianity without asceticism, as “sufficient.” We will say nothing about this strange concession now; the Catholic doctrine is that it is only monks who can follow Christ fully. With this doctrine a great philosopher, and a still greater writer, of the nineteenth century, has made common cause. Schopenhauer extols Christianity because, and in so far as, it has produced great ascetics like St. Anthony or St. Francis; but, beyond that, everything in the Christian message seems to him to be useless and a stumbling-block. With a much deeper insight than Schopenhauer, and with a strength of feeling and power of language that carry us away, Tolstoi has emphasised the ascetic and world-shunning features of the Gospel, and erected them into a rule of observance. That the ascetic ideal which he derives from the Gospel is endowed with warmth and strength, and includes the service of one’s neighbour, is a fact which we cannot deny; but to him, too, the shunning of the world is the leading characteristic of Christianity. There are thousands of our “educated” readers who find his stories suggestive and exciting, but who at the bottom of their hearts are pleased and relieved to know that Christianity means the denial of the world; for then they know very well that it does not concern them. 87They are certain, and rightly certain, that this world is given them to be made the best of, within the bounds of its own blessings and its own regulations; and that if Christianity makes any other claim, it thereby shows that it is unnatural. If Christianity has no goal to set before this life; if it transfers everything to a Beyond; if it declares all earthly blessings to be valueless, and points exclusively to a world-shunning and contemplative life, it is an offence to all energetic, nay, ultimately, to all true natures; for such natures are certain that our faculties are given us to be employed, and that the earth is assigned to us to be cultivated and subdued.

But is not the Gospel really a world-denying creed? Certain very well-known passages are appealed to which do not seem to admit of any other interpretation: “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee”; “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off”; or the answer to the rich young man: “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven”; or the saying about those who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake; or the utterance: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” These and other passages seem to settle the matter, 88and to prove that the Gospel is altogether world-shunning and ascetic in its character. But to this thesis I oppose three considerations which point in another direction. The first is derived from the way in which Jesus came forward, and from his manner and course of life; the second is based upon the impression which he made upon his disciples and was reflected in their own lives; the third springs from what we said about the fundamental features of Jesus’ message.

1. We find in our Gospels a remarkable utterance by Jesus, as follows: “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous and a wine-bibber.” A glutton, then, and a wine-bibber was he called in addition to the other abusive names which were given him. From this it clearly follows that in his whole demeanour and manner of life he made an impression quite different from that of the preacher of repentance on the banks of the Jordan. Towards the various fields in which asceticism had been traditionally practised, he must have taken up an attitude of indifference. We see him in the houses of the rich and of the poor, at meals, with women and amongst children; according to tradition, even at a wedding. He allows his feet to be washed and his head to be anointed. Further, he 89is glad to lodge with Mary and Martha; he does not ask them to leave their home. When he finds, to his joy, people with a firm faith, he leaves them in the calling and the position in which they were. We do not hear of his telling them to sell all and follow him. Apparently he thinks it possible, nay, fitting, that they should live unto their belief in the position in which God has placed them. His circle of disciples is not exhausted by the few whom he summoned directly to follow him. He finds God’s children everywhere; to discover them in their obscurity and to be allowed to speak to them some word of strength is his highest pleasure. But he did not organise his disciples into a band of monks, and he gave them no directions as to what they were to do and leave undone in the life of the day. No one who reads the Gospels with an unprejudiced mind, and does not pick his words, can fail to acknowledge that this free and active spirit does not appear to be bent under the yoke of asceticism, and that such words, therefore, as point in this direction must not be taken in a rigid sense and generalised, but must be regarded in a wider connexion and from a higher point of view.

2. It is certain that the disciples did not understand their master to be a world-shunning ascetic. We shall see later what sacrifices they made for the Gospel and in what sense they renounced the 90world. But it is evident they did not give ascetic practices the chief place; they maintained the rule that the labourer is worthy of his hire; they did not send away their wives. We are incidentally told of Peter that his wife accompanied him on his missionary journeys. Apart from what we are told of an attempt to institute a kind of communism in the congregation at Jerusalem—and we may put it aside, as it is not trustworthy and, moreover, bore no ascetic character—we find nothing in the apostolic age which suggests a community of men who were ascetics on principle; on the contrary, we find the conviction prevailing everywhere that it is within the given circumstances, in the calling and position in which he finds himself, that a man is to be a Christian. How differently things developed in Buddhism from the very start!

3. The all-important consideration is the third. Let me remind you of what we said in regard to Jesus’ leading thoughts. In the sphere indicated by trust in God, humility, the forgiveness of sins and the love of one’s neighbour, there is no room for the introduction of any other maxim, least of all for one of a legal character. At the same time Jesus makes it clear in what sense the kingdom of God is the antithesis of the world. The man who associates any ascetic practice with the words “Take no thought,” “Be Be merciful even as your 91Father in heaven is merciful,” and so on, and puts it upon the same level as those words, does not understand the sublime character of these sayings, and has either lost or has never attained the feeling that there is a union with God in which all such questions as shunning the world and asceticism ire left far behind.

For these reasons we must decline to regard the Gospel as a message of world-denial.

On the other hand, Jesus speaks of three enemies, and the watchword which he gives in dealing with them is not that we are to flee them; rather, he commands us to annihilate them. These three enemies are mammon, care, and selfishness. Observe that here there is no question of flight or denial, but of a battle which is to be fought until the enemy is annihilated; the forces of darkness are to be overthrown. By mammon he understands money and worldly goods in the widest sense of the word, worldly goods which try to gain the mastery over us, and make us tyrants over others; for money is “compressed force.” Jesus speaks of this enemy as if it were a person, as if it were a knight in armour, or a king; nay, as if it were the devil himself. It is at this enemy that the saying, “Ye cannot serve two masters,” is aimed. Wherever anything belonging to the domain of mammon is of such value to a man that he sets his heart upon it, that 92he trembles at the thought of losing it, that he is no longer willing to give it up, such a man is already in bondage. Hence, when the Christian feels that this danger confronts him, he is not to treat with the enemy, but to fight, and not fight only but also destroy the mammon. Were Christ to preach among us to-day, he would certainly not talk in general terms, and say to everyone, “give away everything you have”; but there are thousands among us to whom he would so speak, and that there is scarcely anyone who feels compelled to apply these sayings of the Gospel to himself is a fact that ought to make us suspicious.

The second enemy is care. At first sight it may surprise us that Jesus should describe care as so terrible a foe. He ranks it with “heathenism.” It is true that in the Lord’s Prayer he also taught men to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”; but a confident request of this kind he does not call care. The care which he means is that which makes us timorous slaves of the day and of material things; the care through which bit by bit we fall a prey to the world. Care is to him an outrage on God, who preserves the very sparrows on the housetop; it destroys the fundamental relation with the Father in heaven, the childlike trust, and thus ruins our inmost soul. This is also a point in regard to which, as in respect to mammon, we must confess 93that we do not feel deeply and strongly enough to recognise the full truth of Jesus’ message. But the question is, Who is right—he with the inexorable “Take no thought,” or we with our debilitating fears? We, too, in a measure feel that a man is not really free, strong, and invincible, until he has put aside all his cares and cast them upon God. How much we could accomplish and how strong we should be, if we did not fret.

And then, thirdly: selfishness. It is self-denial, not asceticism, which Jesus requires; self-denial. to the point of self-renunciation. “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out; if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off.” Wherever some desire of the senses gains the upper hand of you, so that you become coarse and vulgar, or in your selfishness a new master arises in you, you must destroy it; not because God has any pleasure in mutilation, but because you cannot otherwise preserve your better part. It is a hard demand. But it is not met by any act of general renunciation, such as monks perform the act may leave things just as they were before—but only by a struggle and a resolute renunciation at the critical point.

With all these enemies, mammon, care, and selfishness, what we have to exercise is self-denial, and therewith the relation of Christianity to asceticism is determined. Asceticism maintains the theory 94that all worldly blessings are in themselves of no value. This is not the theory to which we should be led if we were to go by the Gospel; “for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” But according to the Gospel a man is to ask: Can and ought I to regard property and honour, friends and relations as blessings, or must I put them away? If certain of Jesus’ sayings to this effect have been handed down to us in a general form and were, no doubt, so uttered, still they must be limited by the whole tenor of his discourses. What the Gospel asks of us is solemnly to examine ourselves, to maintain an earnest watch, and to destroy the enemy. There can be no doubt, however, that Jesus demanded self-denial and self-renunciation to a much greater extent than we like to think.

To sum up: Ascetic in the primary meaning of the word the Gospel is not; for it is a message of trust in God, of humility, of forgiveness of sin, and of mercy. This is a height which nothing else can approach, and into this sphere nothing else can force its way. Further, worldly blessings are not of the devil but of God—“Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things; he arrays the lilies of the field and feeds the fowls of the air.” Asceticism has no place in the Gospel at all; what it asks is that we should struggle against mammon, against care, against selfishness; what it demands 95and disengages is love; the love that serves and is self-sacrificing. This struggle and this love are the kind of asceticism which the Gospel means, and whoever encumbers Jesus’ message with any other kind fails to understand it. He fails to understand its grandeur and its importance; for there is something still more important than “giving one’s body to be burned and bestowing all one’s goods to feed the poor,” namely, self-denial and love.

(2) The Gospel and the poor, or the social question.

The bearings of the Gospel in regard to the social question form the second point which we proposed to consider. It is closely akin to the first. Here also we encounter different views prevalent at the present moment, or, to be more exact, two views, which are mutually opposed. We are told, on the one hand, that the Gospel was in the main a great social message to the poor, and that everything else in it is of secondary importance—mere contemporary wrapping, ancient tradition, or new forms supplied by the first generations of Christians. Jesus, they say, was a great social reformer, who aimed at relieving the lower classes from the wretched condition in which they were languishing; he set up a social programme which embraced the equality of all men, relief from economical distress, and deliverance from misery and oppression. It is only so, 96they add, that he can be understood, and therefore so he was; or perhaps—so he was, because it is only so that we can understand him. For years books and pamphlets have been written dealing with the Gospel in this sense; well-meant performances which aim at thus providing Jesus with a defence and a recommendation. But amongst those who take the Gospel to be an essentially social message there are also some who draw the opposite conclusion. By trying to prove that Jesus’ message was wholly directed to bringing about an economical reform, they declare the Gospel to be an entirely Utopian and useless programme; the view, they say, which Jesus took of the world was gentle, but also weak; coming himself from the lower and oppressed classes, he shared the suspicion entertained by small people of the great and the rich; he abhorred all profitable trade and business; he failed to understand the necessity of acquiring wealth; and accordingly he shaped his programme so as to disseminate pauperism in the “world”—to him the world was Palestine—and then, by way of contrast with the misery on earth, to build up a kingdom in heaven; a programme unrealisable in itself, and offensive to men of energy. This, or something like this, is the view held by another section of those who identify the Gospel with a social message.

Opposed to this group of persons, united in the 97way in which they look at the Gospel but divided in their opinions in regard to it, there is another group upon whom it makes quite a different impression. They assert that as for any direct interest on Jesus’ part in the economical and social conditions of his age; nay, further, as for any rudimentary interest in economical questions in general, it is only read into the Gospel, and that with economical questions the Gospel has absolutely nothing to do. Jesus, they say, certainly borrowed illustrations and examples from the domain of economics, and took a personal interest in the poor, the sick, and the miserable, but his purely religious teaching and his saving activity were in no way directed to any improvement in their earthly position: to say that his objects and intentions were of a social character is to secularise them. Nay, there are not a few among us who think him, like themselves, a “Conservative,” who respected all these existing social differences and ordinances as “divinely ordained.”

The voices which make themselves heard here are, as you will observe, very different, and the different points of view are defended with zeal and pertinacity. Now, if we are to try to find the position which corresponds to the facts, there is, first of all, a brief remark to be made on the age in which Jesus lived. Our knowledge of the social conditions in Palestine in his age and for some considerable 98time previously does not go very far; but there are certain leading features of it which we can establish, and two things more particularly which we can assert.

The governing classes, to which, above all, the Pharisees, and also the priests, belonged—the latter partly in alliance with the temporal rulers—had little feeling for the needs of the people. The condition of those classes may not have been much worse than it generally is at all times and in all nations, but it was bad. Moreover, there was here the additional circumstance that mercy and sympathy with the poor had been put into the background by devotion to public worship and to the cult of “righteousness.” Oppression and tyranny on the part of the rich had long become a standing and inexhaustible theme with the Psalmists and with all men of any warm feelings. Jesus, too, could not have spoken of the rich as he did speak, unless they had grossly neglected their duties.

In the poor and oppressed classes, in the huge mass of want and evil, amongst the multitude of people for whom the word “misery” is often only another expression for the word “life,” nay, is life itself—in this multitude there were groups of people at that time, as we can surely see, who, with fervent and steadfast hope, were hanging upon the promises and consoling words of their God, waiting in humility 99and patience for the day when their deliverance was to come. Often too poor to pay even for the barest advantages and privileges of public worship, oppressed, thrust aside, and unjustly treated, they could not raise their eyes to the temple; but they looked to the God of Israel, and fervent prayers went up to Him: “Watchman, what of the night?” Thus their hearts were opened to God and ready to receive Him, and in many of the Psalms, and in the later Jewish literature which was akin to them, the word “poor” directly denotes those who have their hearts open and are waiting for the consolation of Israel. Jesus found this usage of speech in existence and adopted it. Therefore when we come across the expression “the poor” in the Gospels we must not think, without further ceremony, of the poor in the economic sense. As a matter of fact, poverty in the economic sense coincided to a large extent in those days with religious humility and an openness of the heart towards God, in contrast with the elevated “practice of virtue” of the Pharisees and its routine observance in “righteousness.” But if this were the prevailing condition of affairs, then it is clear that our modern categories of “poor” and “rich” cannot be unreservedly transferred to that age. Yet we must not forget that in those days the economical sense was also, as a rule, included in the word 100“poor.” We shall, therefore, have to examine in our next lecture the direction in which a distinction can be made, or perhaps to ask, whether it is possible to fix the inner sense of Jesus’ words in spite of the peculiar difficulty attaching to the conception of “poverty.” We can have some confidence, however, that we shall not have to remain in obscurity on this point; for in its fundamental features the Gospel also throws a bright light upon the field covered by this question.

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