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305

CHAPTER XXII.

DOCTRINE AND ETHICS.

“We are members one of another....

“Let the thief labour ... that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need....

“Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption....

“Forgive each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you. Be ye imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, even as the Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God....

“No fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, which is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”—Eph. iv. 25–v. 6.

The homily that we have briefly reviewed in the last Chapter demands further consideration. It affords a striking and instructive example of St Paul’s method as a teacher of morals, and makes an important contribution to evangelical ethics. The common vices are here prohibited on specifically Christian grounds. The new nature formed in Christ casts them off as alien and dead things; they are the sloughed skin of the old life, the discarded dress of the old man who was slain by the cross of Christ and lies buried in His grave.

The apostle does not condemn these sins as being contrary to God’s law: that is taken for granted. But the legal condemnation was ineffectual (Rom. viii. 3). 306 The wrath revealed from heaven against man’s unrighteousness had left that unrighteousness unchastened and defiant. The revelation of law, approved and echoed by conscience, taught man his guilt; it could do no more. All this St Paul assumes; he builds on the ground of law and its acknowledged findings.

Nor does the apostle make use of the principles of philosophical ethics, which in their general form were familiar to him as to all educated men of the day. He says nothing of the rule of nature and right reason, of the intrinsic fitness, the harmony and beauty of virtue; nothing of expediency as the guide of life, of the inward contentment that comes from well-doing, of the wise calculation by which happiness is determined and the lower is subordinated to the higher good. St Paul nowhere discountenances motives and sanctions of this sort; he contravenes none of the lines of argument by which reason is brought to the aid of duty, and conscience vindicates itself against passion and false self-interest. Indeed, there are maxims in his teaching which remind us of each of the two great schools of ethics, and that make room in the Christian theory of life both for the philosophy of experience and that of intuition. The true theory recognizes, indeed, the experimental and evolutional as well as the fixed and intrinsic in morality, and supplies their synthesis.

But it is not the apostle’s business to adjust his position to that of Stoics and Epicureans, or to unfold a new philosophy; but to teach the way of the new life. His Gentile disciples had been untruthful, passionate in temper, covetous, licentious: the gospel which he preached had turned them from these sins to God; from the same gospel he draws the motives and convictions which are to shape their future life and 307 to give to the new spirit within them its fit expression. St Paul has no quarrel with ethical science, much less with the inspired law of his fathers; but both had proved ineffectual to keep men from iniquity, or to redeem them fallen into it. Above them both, above all theories and all external rules he sets the law of the Spirit of life in Christ.

The originality of Christian ethics, we repeat, does not lie in its detailed precepts. There is not one, it may be, even of the noblest maxims of Jesus that had not been uttered by some previous moralist. With the New Testament in our hands, it may be possible to collect from non-Christian sources—from Greek philosophers, from the Jewish Talmud, from Egyptian sages and Hindoo poets, from Buddha and Confucius—a moral anthology which thus sifted out of the refuse of antiquity, like particles of iron drawn by the magnet, may bear comparison with the ethics of Christianity. If Christ is indeed the Son of man, we should expect Him to gather into one all that is highest in the thoughts and aspirations of mankind. Addressing the Athenians on Mars’ Hill, the apostle could appeal to “certain of your own poets” in support of his doctrine of the Fatherhood of God. The noblest minds in all ages witness to Jesus Christ and prove themselves to be, in some sort, of His kindred.

“They are but broken lights of Thee;

And Thou, O Lord, art more than they!”

It is Christ in us, it is the personal fellowship of the soul with Him and with the living God through Him, that forms the vital and constitutive factor of Christianity. Here is the secret of its moral efficacy. The Christ is the centre root and of the race; He is the 308 image of God in which we were made. The life-blood of mankind flowed in Him as in its heart, and poured forth from Him as from its fountain in sacrifice for the common sin. Jesus gathered into Himself and restored the virtue of humanity broken into a thousand fragments; but He did much more than this. While He re-created in His personal character our lost manhood, by His death and resurrection He has gained for that ideal a transcendent power that seizes upon men and regenerates and transforms them. “With unveiled face beholding in the mirror the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image, [receiving the glory that we see] as from the Lord of the Spirit” (2 Cor. iii. 18).

There is, therefore, an evangelical ethics, a Christian science of life. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” has a system and method of its own. It has a rational solution and explanation to render for our moral problems. But its solution is given, as St Paul and as his Master loved to give it, in practice, not in theory. It teaches the art of living to multitudes to whom the names of ethics and moral science are unknown. Those who understand the method of Christ best are commonly too busy in its practice to theorize about it. They are physicians tending the sick and the dying, not professors in some school of medicine. Yet professors have their use, as well as practitioners. The task of developing a Christian science of life, of exhibiting the truth of revelation in its theoretical bearings and its relations to the thought of the age, forms a part of the practical duties of the Church and touches deeply the welfare of souls. For other times this work has been nobly accomplished by Christian thinkers. Shall we not pray the Lord of 309 the harvest that He will thrust forth into this field fit labourers; that He will raise up men mighty through God to overthrow every high thing that exalts itself against His knowledge, and wise to build up to the level of the times the great fabric of Christian ethics and discipline?


There emerge in this exhortation four distinct principles, which lay at the basis of St Paul’s views of life and conduct.

I. In the first place, the fundamental truth of the Fatherhood of God, “Be imitators of God,” he writes, “as beloved children.” And in chapter iv. 24: “Put on the new man, which was created after God.”

Man’s life has its law, for it has its source, in the nature of the Eternal. Behind our race-instincts and the laws imposed on us in the long struggle for existence, behind those imperatives of practical reason involved in the structure of our intelligence, is the presence and the active will of Almighty God our heavenly Father. His image we see in the Son of man.

Here is the fountainhead of truth, from which the two great streams of philosophical thought upon morals have diverged. If man is the child of a Being absolutely good, then moral goodness belongs to the essence of his nature; it is discoverable in the instincts of his reason and will. Were not our nature warped by sin, such reasoning must have commanded immediate assent and led to consistent and self-evident results. Again, if man is the child of God, the finite of the Infinite, his moral character must, presumably, have been in the beginning germinal rather than complete, needing—even apart from sin and its 310 malformations—development and education, the discipline of a fatherly providence, inculcating the lessons and forming the habits which belong to his ripe manhood and full-grown stature. Intuitional morals bear witness to the God of creation; experimental morals to the God of providence and history. The Divine Fatherhood is the keystone of the arch in which they meet.

The command to “be imitators of God” makes personality the sovereign element in life. If consciousness is a finite and passing phenomenon, if God be but a name for the sum of the impersonal laws that regulate the universe, for the “stream of tendency” in the worlds, Father and love are meaningless terms applied to the Supreme and religion dissolves into an impalpable mist. Is the universe governed by personal will, or by impersonal force? Is reason, or is gravitation the index to the nature of the Absolute? This is the vital question of modern thought. The latter is the answer given by a large, if not a preponderant body of philosophical opinion in our own day,—as it was given, virtually, by the natural philosophers of Greece in the dawn of science. Man’s triumphs over nature and the splendour of his discoveries in the physical realm bewilder his reason. The scientists, like other conquerors, have been intoxicated with victory. The universe, it seemed, was about to yield to them its last secrets; they were prepared to analyze the human soul and resolve the conception of God into its material elements. Religion and conscience, however, prove to be intractable subjects in the physical laboratory; they are coming out of the crucible unchanged and refined. We are able by this time to take a more sober measure of the possibilities of the scientific method, and to see what 311 inductive logic and natural selection can do for us, and what they cannot do. We can walk in the light of the new revelation, without being dazzled by it. Things are less altered than we thought. The old boundaries reappear. The spirit resumes its place, and rules a wider realm than before. Reason refuses to be the victim of its own success, and to immolate itself for the deification of material law. “Forasmuch as we are God’s offspring,” we ought not to think, and we will not think that the Godhead is like to blind forces and reasonless properties of matter. Love, thought, will in us raise our being above the realm of the impersonal; and these faculties point us upward to Him from whom they came, the Father of the spirits of all flesh.

The great tide of joy, the victorious energy which the sense of God’s love brings into the life of a Christian, is evidence of its reality. The believer is a child walking in the light of his Father’s smile—dependent, ignorant, but the object of an Almighty love. A thousand tokens speak to him of the Divine care; his tasks and trials are sweetened by the confidence that they are appointed for wise ends beyond his present knowledge. To another in that same house there is no heavenly Father, no unseen hand that guides, no gleam of a brighter and purer day lighting up its dull chambers. There are human companions, weak, erring and wearying like oneself. There is work to do, with the night coming swiftly; and the brave heart girds itself to duty, finding in the service of man its motive and employment—but, alas, with how poor success and how faint a hope!

It is not the loss of strength for human service, nor the dying out of joy which unbelief entails, that is 312 its chief calamity; but the unbelief itself. The sun in the soul’s heaven is put out. The personal relationship to the Supreme which gave dignity and worth to our individual being, which imparted sacredness and enduring power to all other ties, is destroyed. The heart is orphaned; the temple of the spirit desolate. The mainspring of life is broken.

“Make haste to answer me, O Jehovah; my spirit faileth!

Hide not Thy face from me,

Lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit!”

II. The solidarity of mankind in Christ furnishes the apostle with a powerful lever for raising the ethical standard of his readers. The thought that “we are members one of another” forbids deceit. That he may “have whereof to give to the needy” is the purpose that provokes the thief to industry. The desire to “give grace” to the hearers and to “build them up” in truth and goodness imparts seriousness and elevation to social intercourse. The irritations and injuries we inflict on each other, with or without purpose, furnish occasion for us to “be kind one to another, good-hearted, forgiving yourselves”—for this is the expression the apostle uses in chapter iv. 32, and in Colossians iii. 13. Self is so merged in the community, that in dealing censure or forgiveness to an offending brother the Christian man feels as though he were dealing with himself—as though it were the hand that forgave the foot for tripping, or the ear that pardoned some blunder of the eye.

Showing-grace is what the apostle literally says here, speaking both of human and Divine forgiveness.131131   Χαριζόμενοι ἐαυτοῖς, καθὼς καὶ ὁ Θεὸς ἐν Χριστῷ ἐχαρίσατο ὑμῖν. So in Col. ii. 13, iii. 13; Rom. viii. 32; 2 Cor. ii. 7, 10; Luke vii. 42, 43. 313 In this lies the charm and power of true forgiveness. The forgiver after the order of grace does not pardon like a judge moved by magnanimity or pity for transgressors, but in love to his own kind and desire for their amendment. He identifies himself with the wrong-doer, weighs his temptation and all that drew him into error. Such forgiveness, while it never ignores the wrong, admits every qualifying circumstance and just extenuation. This is the kind of pardon that touches the sinner’s heart; for it goes to the heart of the sin, isolating it from all other feelings and conditions that are not sin; it takes the wrong upon itself in understanding and perception; it puts its finger upon the aching, festering spot where the criminality lies and applies to that its healing balm.

“Even as God in Christ forgave you.” And how did God forgive? Not by a grand imperial decree, as of some monarch too exalted to resent the injuries of men or to inquire into their futile proceedings. Had such forgiveness been possible to Divine justice, it could have wrought in us no real salvation. Our forgiveness is that of God in Christ. The Forgiver has sat down by the prisoner’s side, has felt his misery and the force of his temptations, and in everything but the actual sin has made Himself one with the sinner, even to bearing the extreme penalty of his guilt. In the act of making sacrifice, Jesus prayed for those that slew Him: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do!” This intercession breathed the spirit of the new forgiveness. There is a real remission of sins, a release granted justly and upon due satisfaction; but it is the act of justice charged with love, of a justice as tender and considerate as it is strong, and which eagerly takes account of all that 314 bespeaks in the offender a possibility of better things. It is a forgiveness that does justice to the humanity as well as the criminality in the sinner.

To proclaim by word and deed this forgiveness of God to the sinful world is the vocation of the Church. And where she does thus declare it, by whatever means or ministry, Christ’s promise to her is verified: “Whose-soever sins ye remit, they are remitted to them.” We may so reconcile men to ourselves, as to bring them back to God. Has some one done you a wrong? there is your opportunity of saving a soul from death and hiding a multitude of sins. Thus Christ used the great wrong we all did Him. It is your privilege to show the wrong-doer that you and he are made one by the blood of Christ.

“Walk in love,” St Paul says, “as the Christ also loved us and gave up Himself for us a sacrifice.” When the apostle writes the Christ, he points us along the whole line of the revelation of the cross.132132   Comp. pp. 47, 83, 169, 189. We think of the Christhood of Jesus, of the Christliness of such love as this. Christ’s was a representative and exemplary love, with its forerunners and its followers all walking in one path. “The Christ loved and gave”; for love that does not give, that prompts to no effort and puts itself to no sacrifice, is but a luxury of the heart,—useless and even selfish. And He “gave up Himself”—the only gift that could suffice. The rich who bestow many gifts in furtherance of humanitarian and religious work and still do not bestow themselves, their sympathetic thought, their presence and personal aid, are withholding the best thing, the one thing required to make their bounties efficacious. In what we give and forgive, it is the 315 accent of sympathy, the giving of the heart with it that adds grace to the act. “Though I dole out all my goods, though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.” We do a thousand things to serve and benefit our fellow-men, and yet evade the real sacrifice,—which is simply to love them.

In studying this epistle, we have felt increasingly that the Church is the centre of humanity. The love born and nourished in the household of faith goes out into the world with a universal mission. The solidarity of moral interests that is realized there, embraces all the kindreds of the earth. The incarnation of Christ knits all flesh into one redeemed family. The continents and races of mankind are members one of another, with Jesus Christ for head. We are brothers and sisters of humanity: He our elder brother, and God our common Father in heaven,—His Father and ours.

Auguste Comte writes in his System of Positive Polity: “The promises of supernatural religion appealed exclusively to man’s selfish instincts.... The sympathetic instincts found no place in the theological synthesis.”133133   Vol. iv., pp. 22, 41 (Eng. Trans.). It would be impossible to affirm anything more completely at variance with the truth, anything more absolutely opposed to the doctrine of Christ and the theological synthesis of the apostles. And yet it was upon this ground that the great French thinker renounced Christianity, proposing his new religion of humanity as a substitute for a selfish and effete supernaturalism! Why did he not go to the New Testament itself to find out what Christianity means? “To combine permanently concert with independence,” Comte excellently says, “is the capital problem of society, 316 a problem which religion alone can solve, by love primarily, then by faith on a basis of love.”134134   Comte, vol. iv., p. 30. Precisely so; and this is the solution offered by Jesus Christ. His self-sacrificing love is the basis on which our faith rests; and that faith works by love in all those who truly possess it. This is the evangelical theory. The morale of the Church, it is true, has fallen shamefully below its doctrine; but this doctrine is, after all, the one fruitful and progressive moral force in the world; and it is certain to be carried into effect.

In the darkest hour of Israel’s oppression and of international hate, one of her great prophets thus described the triumph of supernatural religion: “In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth; for that the Lord of hosts hath blessed them, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance” (Isai. xix. 24, 25). This is our programme still.

III. Another of St Paul’s ruling ideas lying at the basis of Christian ethics, is his conception of man’s future destiny. The apostle warns his readers that they “grieve not the Holy Spirit, in whom they were sealed till the day of redemption.” He tells them that “the impure and the covetous have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

There is thus disclosed a world beyond the world, a life growing out of life, an eternal and invisible kingdom of whose possession the Spirit that lives in Christian men is the earnest and firstfruits. This kingdom is the joint inheritance of the sons of God, brethren with Christ and in Christ, who are conformed to His image and found worthy to “stand before the Son of man.” Those are excluded from the inheritance, 317 who by their moral nature are alien to it: “Without are dogs, sorcerers, whoremongers, idolaters, and every one that loveth and maketh a lie.” This revelation has had a most powerful influence on the progress of ethics. It has given a momentous importance to individual conduct, a new grandeur to the moral issues of the present life. “Man’s life,” viewed in the light of the Christian gospel, “has duties that are alone great, that go up to Heaven, and down to Hell.” The tangled skein is at last to be unravelled, the mysterious problem of mortal life will have its solution at the judgement-seat of Jesus Christ.

It is true that the wicked flourish and spread themselves like green trees in the sunshine; and the covetous boast of their hearts’ desire. To see this was the trial of ancient faith; and the good man had to charge himself constantly that he should not fret because of evil-doers. It required an heroic faith to believe in God’s kingdom and righteousness, when the visible course of things made all against them, and there was no clear light beyond. God’s saints had to learn first that God is Himself the sufficient good, and must be trusted to do right. But this was the faith of defence rather than of victory,—of endurance, not enthusiasm. In the knowledge of Christ’s victory over death and entrance on our behalf into the heavenly world, “in hope of life eternal which God who cannot lie hath promised,” men have fought against their own sins, have struggled for the right and spent themselves to save their fellows with a vigour and success never witnessed before, and in numbers far exceeding those that all other creeds and systems have enlisted in the holy cause of humanity.

Human reason had guessed and hope had dreamed 318 of the soul’s immortality. Christianity gives this hope certainty, and adds to it the assurance of the resurrection of the body. Man’s entire nature is thus redeemed. Chastity takes its due place amongst the virtues, and becomes the mark of a Christian as distinguished from a pagan life. “The body is not for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. God who raised up the Lord Jesus, will raise us also through His power. Your bodies are limbs of Christ, ... a temple of the Holy Spirit which you have from God.... Glorify God in your body.” So St Paul exhorts the Christians of Corinth (1 Ep. vi.), living in the centre and shrine of heathen vice. This doctrine of the sanctity of the body has been the salvation of the family. It has saved civilization from perishing through sexual corruption, and is still our chief defence against this fearful evil.

Our bodily dress, we now learn, is one with the spirit that it infolds. We shall lay it aside only to resume it,—transfigured, but with a form and impress continuous with its present being. This identical self, the same both in its outward and inward personality, will appear before the tribunal of Christ, that it may “receive the things done in the body.” This announcement gives reasonableness and distinctness to the expectation of future judgement. The judgement assumes, with its solemn grandeur, a matter-of-fact reality, an immediate bearing on the daily conduct of life, which lends a powerful reinforcement to the conscience, while it supplies a fitting and glorious conclusion to our course as moral beings.

IV. Finally, the atonement of the cross stamps its own character and spirit on the entire ethics of Christianity. The Fatherhood of God, the unity and solidarity of mankind, the issues of eternal life or death 319 awaiting us in the unseen world—all the great factors and fundamentals of revealed religion gather about the cross of Christ; they lend to it their august significance, and gain from it new import and impressiveness.

The fact that Christ “gave Himself up for us an offering and sacrifice to God”—gave Himself, as it is put elsewhere, “for our sins”—throws an awful light upon the nature of human transgression. The blood spilt in the strife with our sin and shed to wash out its stain, reveals its foulness and malignity. All that inspired men had taught, that good men had believed and felt and penitent men confessed in regard to the evil of human sin, is more than verified by the sacrifice which the Holy One of God has undergone in order to put it away. It was felt that “the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins,” that the sacrifices man could offer for himself, or the creatures on his behalf, were ineffectual; the guilt was too real to be expiated in this fashion, the wound too deep to be healed by those poor appliances. But who had suspected that such a remedy as this was needed, and forthcoming? How deep the resentment of eternal Justice against the transgressions of men, if the blood of God’s own Son alone could make propitiation! How rank the offence against the Divine holiness, if to purge its abomination the vessel containing the most sweet fragrance of His sinless nature must be broken! What tears of contrition, what cleansing fires of hate against our own sins, what scorn of their baseness, what stern resolves against them are awakened by the sight of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!

This negative side of the ethical bearing of Christ’s sacrifice is implied in the words of the apostle in the second verse, and in the contrast indicated between 320 its sweet savour and those unclean things whose very names it should banish from our midst (ver. 3). On its positive effects—the love and self-devotion it inspires, the conformity of our lives to its example—we have dwelt already. Let us add, however, that the sacrifice of Christ demands from us, above all, devotion to Christ Himself. Our first duty as Christians is to love Christ, to serve and follow Christ. “He died for all,” says the apostle, “that the living should live no longer to themselves, but to Him that died for them and rose again.” When Mary of Bethany poured on the Saviour’s head her box of precious ointment, the Master accepted the tribute and approved the act; and the poor have been gainers by it a thousand times the pence which Judas deemed wasted on the head he was watching to betray. There is no conflict between the claims of Christ and those of philanthropy, between the needs of His worship and the needs of the destitute and suffering in our streets. Every new subject won to the kingdom of Christ is another helper won for His poor. Every act of love rendered to Him deepens the channel of sympathy by which relief and blessing come to sorrowful humanity.

Let the gospel of Christ’s kingdom be preached in word and deed to all nations, let the love of Christ be brought to bear upon the great masses of mankind, and the time of the world’s salvation will be come. Its sin will be hated, forsaken, forgiven. Its social evils will be banished; its weapons of war turned to ploughshares and pruning hooks. Its scattered races and nations will be reunited in the obedience of faith, and formed into one Christian confederacy and commonwealth of the peoples, a peaceful kingdom of the Son of God’s love.


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