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THE REAL MIND OF JESUS
OF far greater importance, however, than this deliverance from the yoke of a transitory past, is that closer union with Jesus Himself and His inmost thoughts, which is worthy to prevail for ever and ever. Yet it is not by scientific research that this can be attained, but by a moral insight into the moral conceptions of Jesus. Nor can it be denied that from time to time monks, or those who, in their would-be imitation of Jesus, revert to the standpoint of anarchy, do surpass the student of history by retaining closer hold of tradition, and by seeking not merely to know one historic fact out of many but Jesus Christ Himself. In the hearts of individual Christians the spiritual power of Jesus has long supplied what was lacking in Luther’s works upon the Church—that moral insight, whereby we still may recognise Jesus as our Leader and perceive the illuminating truth of the words which, if treated as patterns 187to be copied exactly, separate men from truth, and so from Christ. A single word of Jesus may kindle this understanding; yet neither any one of them, nor all of them together, can make us realise their truth. This can only happen if we seek Jesus Himself. By this nothing fanciful is meant, but simply the endeavour to understand the mind whence proceeded these wonderful, terrible, and yet gracious words. The words of Jesus, indeed, can be tabulated, but not His moral ideas. For these we can only apprehend when we recognise them as the outcome of a Will that is not something arbitrary, but a mind at peace in eternity.
Of the mind of Jesus and His Person we can gain a clear idea by observing the nature of the moral difference between Himself and those around Him. Does it consist in the principle that righteousness is a matter not only of outward action, but of inward disposition? Is that what is meant by the better righteousness towards which He sought to direct His disciples? But to men familiar with the words of the prophets, “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me,” and with the prayer, “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” this distinction surely was not new. In this respect the difference 188between Jesus and the righteous of His nation can only have consisted in the thoroughness with which He applied the principle; and this it was that gave Him the right to call them hypocrites. If, however, we stop short at this point, we are far indeed from really comprehending Him in the strength and unity of His mind.
That which is peculiar to the moral thought of Jesus is that He actually develops this principle further, and so for the first time exhibits its full force. He is riot content, like the prophets, to attack hypocrisy in the sense of a deliberate discrepancy between what one really is and what one would like to appear; He also exposes its radical nature. Jesus undoubtedly knew that, in the ordinary sense of the term, the Pharisees were no hypocrites—ready, as they were, whenever the inviolability of the law was at stake, to face death at the hands of the Romans. Nevertheless, Jesus did plainly decide that the fearful corruption of their spiritual nature made them ripe for the judgment of hell. He further tells them that they say, but fail to do; nor do they themselves fulfil the demands which they make. But it was not from want of activity, as commonly understood, that they left any duties undone; they were zealous 189to the last degree. The thing they lacked was in their eyes of secondary consequence—something for which they had no time, because for them the all-important matter was to fulfil the law with the greatest possible exactitude. To them, therefore, it was not an object of close concern that their will should be sincere and at one with itself, conscious of its eternal right. They did, indeed, aim at fulfilling the law, but only in order to prove themselves righteous, and so to attain something quite different. They wanted to serve two masters—a feat that, according to Jesus, is made impossible by the nature of the will. In seeking to understand in minutest detail a variety of isolated precepts, they overlooked the one essential matter of the law, the demand for justice, mercy, and faithfulness, as a means to genuine fellowship. They were not grounded upon the truth; they neglected that sincerity which must see for itself the meaning and rightful claim of the law, and thus discovers how to fulfil it. They made of the law a burden grievous to be borne, but did not themselves feel its weight, because it was easy for them to satisfy unintelligible demands, and because they rightly saw how possible it is to finish and be quit of such tasks as are not understood. 190They imagined they really did well-nigh fulfil the law, and looked upon themselves as profitable servants. Meanwhile they were preventing its moral ideas from taking effect, because they thought it not worth while to investigate their truth.
The morality of the Pharisees still flourishes among us. Of the leaders of thought in our nation many are horrified at being told that a man can do what is good only if his will is directed towards the pursuit of truth, as he himself perceives it. They say that, on the contrary, we require “objective” ordinances, telling us quite definitely what we have to do. If they meant that there is general need of law, custom, and personal authority, they would indeed be right. To ignore the fact is as childish as it is dangerous, for only in the peace and order due to these forces can the good make progress among us. What such leaders of our people mean, however, is that to obey these authorities is in itself to do that which is good, and, worse still, that we arrive at a knowledge of the good by deducing it from laws impressed upon us by nature and by history. They therefore declare that they have no eyes to see for themselves what is good. Yet these blind leaders of the blind are 191full of honest zeal, although different in kind from that of the Pharisees, who are otherwise their prototypes. They at least direct the people towards Jesus Christ,—a fact we acknowledge with gratitude and wish to turn to account.
Only by observing how Jesus goes to the root of the insincerity and indolence underlying this conception of morality can we see clearly the meaning of his moral ideas in their bearing on ourselves.
In the course of His unrelenting war upon the self-deception of the righteous men around Him, He reveals beyond dispute the source of in ward sincerity and singleness of purpose. This, according to Jesus, is implied in the nature of volition. We can only will one thing. Contrive as we may, we cannot serve two masters, and if we persist in attempting it we end in insincerity and enter into conflict with a law within ourselves, the truth of which is evident. Just as the eye must needs be single, not wandering hither and thither, but fixed simply upon one point, if it is really to give to the organism the necessary light, so the whole inward man is full of darkness unless the will can concentrate its every impulse in one direction, in the thought of one eternal goal.192
But in order to do that we must know the goal. Did Jesus perhaps think that His mission consisted in showing men where to find it? Not so. He knew that the essence of the law was known throughout Israel, the commandments enjoining love to God and to one’s neighbour—both comprised in one. He knew too that, after all, it is easy to draw from every man the acknowledgment of who his neighbour is, and that consequently when any is unmerciful he is self-condemned at the same time. Jesus aimed rather at proving that by no word coming to us from without can we come to know what is good; the undeviating direction of our will must receive its impulse from within. For this purpose He employed a twofold method: in the first place, as against mere piety, He vindicated the claims of moral righteousness, and in the second place he explained the meaning of love.
It is indeed certain that in a manner altogether unique Jesus lived in the thought of God as all in all, our one and only good. For, when at length He saw in His own victory the coming of the Kingdom of God, for Him this meant solely that blissful future, whose necessary condition is that God alone shall reign within us. All good things that do not exactly 193draw us nearer to God prepare the way for our destruction. We can attain to freedom, life, and goodness, only if we renounce all else for the sake of God. True righteousness is love of God. But from these fundamental principles of piety the conclusion came to be drawn that our supreme duty is obedience to the traditional will of God,—a procedure whereby we are exposed to a danger terrible indeed, since it leads to a form of piety fatal to any moral clearness. For, amongst commandments handed down as expressing the will of God, there is always a tendency to rank those highest which set forth our immediate duty to God. It necessarily follows that precepts relating to the cultus assume greater prominence than commandments dealing with conduct towards other men. This Jesus found in those righteous enthusiasts round Him who with ever greater care, strove to develop and elaborate the rules delivered to them for the service of God. But in His eyes the righteousness of such a method of serving God was subversive of a living service; IIe saw in it the carcase round which the eagles are gathered together.
Jesus will not hear of our allowing the claims of the cultus to thrust aside the duty of ministering to the needs of any committed to our 194charge. His stern condemnation of conduct of that kind is shown in the example of the pious son, who might thus excuse himself for refusing succour to his aged parents, if what might have been of service to them was offered to God as a sacrifice. In this passage in Mark vii., Jesus calls attention to the discord produced within, when a distinction is drawn between parents’ needs and God’s demands. Yet why should regard for parents take precedence of cultic observance, since that, too, is included in the Mosaic law? Because, it might be replied, the prophets already had said that mercy is better than sacrifice. Of this teaching there was doubtless, in the days of Jesus, a vivid recollection in Israel, as is clearly shown by the Scribe mentioned in Mark xii.; yet under the fostering care of these Scribes there had sprung up and flourished a religion whose life involved the death of morality.
Jesus was the first to show how to overcome this monstrous state of things. Once we hold that nothing can tell us what is good but a tradition given by God, religion will preponderate over the moral sentiment in a manner fatal to itself. Our only safeguard consists in perceiving that moral earnestness,—in other words, sincerity of the will,—is the first step 195in that religion wherein the living God is truly sought. The Biblical expression for religion is: Trust in God, Love for God. Genuine trust in God consists in feeling oneself to be a child of God; and love for God consists in setting before one, as the one final object of one’s will, such union with God as implies desire to become a child of God. Now, according to Jesus, this can only be attained by moral obedience, by such love for one’s neighbour as is unmoved by the enmity of men. Thus he looks upon moral discernment as a primary element in all truc religion. We cannot love God unless we have begun to feel that inward peace which culminates in the love of our enemies. It is impossible to long for God Himself, if we know not what is good: for God alone is good. If we are to find and follow God, we must recognise the good. Thus Jesus attacks the mistaken idea that, in order to recognise the good, we must first know God, and understand His commandments. To those who hold that view, He puts the question: (Luke xii.) “Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?”
The same truth Jesus has deeply impressed upon us by His explanation of the commandment as to love. The moral ideas of Jesus are 196surely especially those that unfold the meaning of this love which constitutes the unity of His mind. But to attain a real understanding thereof, it is not sufficient simply to point out that it is a love of God which is also love of one’s neighbour, and a love of one’s neighbour which is at the same time love of God. For that does not as yet reveal the characteristic temper of love. Jesus, to show this, explains wherein it differs from mere just dealing. This method of elucidating the matter has, it is true, not infrequently served to obscure it. Thus it may easily appear that the nature and operation of love are distinguished from stern justice by greater laxity. But that is not at all the love that Jesus means. Of this love we may attain a clear conception by noting wherein it differs from justice; and the first distinction is that it is more stringent than any justice. Justice admits exceptions; love knows none. Justice has no one constant aim, but follows the changes of human nature revealing themselves in history. What may at some future date be justice it is impossible to tell. Love is ready, indeed, with unwearied versatility, to adapt itself to every impulse; but its aim is unalterably directed to a goal it knows—namely, a personal fellowship, wherein 197all feel in each other a happiness which surpasses every other joy. The will to love seeks to produce and intensify such fellowship around it, recognising this as its eternal goal, and regarding it as unthinkable that it could ever will anything else. The peace of mind produced by a clearly perceived and constant goal makes the will to love both stronger and sterner than any form of justice. The love that .Jesus means must be thought of as the highest exercise of will-power, the concentrated force of a mind that knows the object of its will When Jesus calls upon men to love their enemies, He is not asking them to do something extraordinary,—something marvellous, and impossible to understand; but to give a clear example of that exercise of will whose sole object is personal fellowship. Such purpose is supported by the clear discernment of its own eternal law; and consequently is not loss of individual life, but the most intensely concentrated and living action of the will.
Love is in the second place distinguished from justice by the character of its motives. Legal obedience is always induced by definite enactments; love is not. A will dependent on such impulse from without is not of the nature 198of love. Genuine love takes its orders from itself. The fact that others set before us the goal of true personal fellowship, cannot determine us to lead a life full of love; for this goal, standing fast in its right for ever and ever, can be understood only by one who is full of love, and by free choice makes it his own. Again, as love is the recognition from within of an eternal goal, it is guided step by step by its self-determined course. What it itself judges to be, in its especial circumstances, the best way to reach the eternal goal, must always be its way; it is acquainted with no other. Should it submit to any other laws, either its free confidence would be overcome by fear, or its energy sink into indolence. Though, like the heroic Pharisees, a man suffer martyrdom for his faith, that is, for obedience to the law, if he has not in himself something of this sincerity and independence of love, according to the Apostle Paul, he is nothing.
Now it is true that, in point of time, love begins in every case only when a man experiences love. Whence the ceaseless efforts of Jesus to rouse men to a sense of the unfailing love actually experienced by them. But, once this dawning consciousness has done its quickening work, a man possesses life within 199himself. Then will his activity no longer be based, like mere just dealing, upon regard for his own interest, which might be advanced by promoting the welfare of others; nor upon promptings of sympathy, arising from a fellowship already established. Once love has come into being, its operation is entirely self-determined. It cannot accept laws from without, but from its own inner consciousness lays down the law for itself. It is no longer dependent on an object worthy of love, as it was at the outset, when it was first kindled, but, like God’s sun, freely and abundantly scatters abroad its peculiar riches. To it the sublime calmness of creative power belongs; its nature and its force are divine. Jesus teaches that this is so; and yet He says that love, and love alone, is required of every man. The fact that Jesus can demand it, because He knows there will spring up this free and active power of love in those who gather round Him, and in whose lives the light now shines through His manifestation of Himself:—this is what Redemption means for us.
In the third place, the scope of love is unlimited; its work is never at an end. Any duty which we may hope to finish and have done with, is not a moral duty. Those whose 200sole knowledge is of finite tasks, have not yet attained to the inward life and liberty of a moral frame of mind. The accomplishment of anything felt by love to be a duty, leads to new obligations, greater than the last. If any man, striving after fellowship with those amongst whom he is thrown, imagines he can set any limits to his labours, that man’s will is not yet moral in its nature. If genuine fellowship with others is really the sole object of our will, we shall content ourselves with nothing less than an infinite capacity for service. We shall then be prepared for the possibility of having to disregard all boundaries whereby our rights are fenced, if we would be able to fulfil our purpose of serving the community. If real love is ours, we are ready for any sacrifice that may establish a common bond of kinship between ourselves and those around us. That is the self-denial to which we are called by Jesus; not a meaningless abandonment of our own individual powers, but the exerting of them to the utmost, the willingness to give them all to the great cause. What arises on this foundation is no mere “frame of mind in fashion like a house of cards;” for where service is of this kind it is upon an open recognition of necessity that a man is built up. 201If he is a Christian, he rejoices in the promise that his sacrifice is the key to those riches of the world that quicken the heart of man to its deepest depths.
The mind that is alive in Jesus, and that He requires of us, is rooted and grounded in the knowledge that one thing alone is good,—a will intent upon the fellowship of self-conscious beings,—in other words, love. This mind, in accordance with His explanation of love, is uniform, independent, exhaustless volition. Its crowning-point is the perception that this will is the power over all, is God. When we have so understood the mind of Jesus and the unity of His moral ideas, we may return to those words of His which seemed to require that we should utterly renounce what to-day we can separate no longer from the obligations of social morality, namely, the pursuit of power and possessions. We shall now be able, in explaining them, to avoid former errors.
Above all, a fallacy underlies the very desire to derive from these words “the moral conceptions of Jesus.” The attempt might be permitted in the case of a confused and indolent thinker, who may possibly be the recipient of certain inspirations containing luminous moral ideas. But if we have at least come to know 202Jesus as a person full of moral clearness and vigour, it should be obvious that in seeking His moral ideas, we must look to the unity of His mind, before asking the question how, in relation to His whole mind, and the circumstances of the case, such and such individual sayings are to be understood.
The particular circumstances in which the words were spoken require careful consideration. But this does not mean, as some modern historians sometimes contend, that it is mainly in the anticipation of the approaching end of the world that the key is to be found to those words of Jesus which run counter to the way of thinking common among men. We cannot, of course, deny that this expectation had a certain amount of influence; but the characteristic note in the words of Jesus is due above all to His intentness upon the eternal goal, whereby the verdict is determined in the day of judgment. As a natural consequence of such intentness on the end, it follows that no intervening objects. can be unreservedly, and so in all sincerity, objects of the will. It ought in any case to be impossible to include among the words explained by the idea that the end of the world was approaching, those dealing with the love of peace. Yet they have 203been said to express the unapproachable exaltation with which one who is set free from a perishing world can face his enemy; and accordingly, not really to refer to the will to help that enemy, and establish relations with him, in order to win him over. In like manner, the saying concerning the blow and its requital has been explained as meaning willingness to suffer further. But such an attitude towards an enemy or offender would, if not Merely in harmony with the action, but actually the motive for it,—imply a lack of love. Could Jesus have been induced to take such a view by the imminence of the end of the world, and of judgment? Such an expectation might cause Him to overlook anything else, but surely not the judgment itself, wherein every one is condemned who has not love.
The most wide-spread and worst mistake in interpreting these words consists in taking them all as laws, to be fulfilled in every case. That is impossible; for they can in no way be deduced from the mind of Jesus as universal expressions of His unchanging will. His own demeanour in His intercourse with men shows that it was not His purpose to present in Himself such an abnormal type of humanity, nor yet, for the sake of heaven, to make of His 204surroundings a barren wilderness. Had He meant these words to be universal rules, He would have been worse than the rabbis whose teaching He opposed. Hillel, with his scruples about the lawfulness of eating eggs laid on the Sabbath day, would, in comparison with Jesus, have been a charitable exponent of the law. Such a conception of the words of Jesus is possible only to those who wish to explain His words without troubling about Him, since it is sharply opposed to the moral consciousness of Jesus which he wished that others too should possess.
Those who, in spite of that, cling to these demands, as to rules of universal application, have not yet asked themselves the question, What is the way in which the mind of Jesus Himself directs us? They cease from really following Jesus, in order that they may obey words whose bearing as words of Jesus they have not understood. True following of Him is possible only if we become like-minded with Him, and if, having this mind in us, and sharing his independence, we aim in our own station, at the eternal goal. But if we are willing to obey any words we hear, merely because they are traditional words of Jesus, even though we do not recognise His mind, 205that is to say Himself, in them—by so doing, we are resisting the person who sought to unite us with Himself, and to save us from the darkness of self-deception.
In this matter it will be hard to give up the long-accustomed habit of an insincere obedience; for that requires nothing beyond the reach of our purely human powers, and makes it possible for us to be satisfied with what we do, and rest upon our labours. On the other hand, the independent, originative, self-sacrificing love, that really is required of us, transcends the limit of our power. We can understand its moral necessity, and therefore we condemn ourselves when we perceive that we have it not. Yet we cannot gain it unless those conditions within us have been made favourable to its growth; until that has happened, the idea of it will suggest that it would rob us of all joy and peace. If, then, we still desire to take Christianity seriously, our obvious course is to turn aside from that which, in its inexorable severity, is morally intelligible to us, and rather try to follow that unusual course which Jesus seemingly demands of us in many isolated sayings. It is a device that the more readily occurs to one because of the secret thought that the stern necessity of 206things will take care that such an attempt does not result in anything more than a mere dallying with the absurd.
But that such feeble trifling has nothing to do with Christianity is clear when we recognise that the whole force of Jesus’ soul is concentrated in a love which is ready for any sacrifice. He who cannot summon up the will to be like H i m in this, is none of His. He who can, on the other hand, becomes quite indifferent to the claim that he should let himself be enslaved by what in some of the words of Jesus seems to be incomprehensible. For he knows that, were he to submit to such disturbance and confusion within, the effect would be disastrous; it would mean separation from Jesus Christ.
So far, however, are the words themselves from being useless, and much less disastrous, that they are a magnificent proof of spiritual freedom and power. Let us consider first any passages whereof the key is to be found in expectancy of the approaching end of the world. It is such words, and the whole attitude of Jesus upon this point, that reveal His wondrous energy. Everything dictated by this conviction He carries out as a matter of course, and expects His disciples to do the 207same. Friedrich Naumann, in his “Letters on Religion,”55“Briefe über Religion,” 1903, pp. 41-42. has shown in an excellent way how unreasonable, as compared with this, is the attitude of those modern Christians who feel bound to share the eschatological standpoint of Jesus, but take good heed not to treat the things of this present world with indifference and as though they were not likely to continue. With regard to these utterances of Jesus, we confess that we cannot possibly comply with them, since we do not share His conception of the universe, and so are living in a different world. On the other hand, the mind which they reveal should be present also in us; that is, the will really to act in accordance with our own convictions.
Among the other directions of Jesus, those again must he singled out which refer directly to the frank and inexhaustible spirit of love, which is alone required; or to conduct directly resulting from it, such as absolute fidelity to bonds of matrimony, not already dissolved by the sin of one of the parties; or, again, to conduct directly prohibited by it, as, for example, lustful desire, or thoughts of enmity murderous in their intent. In words like these is set before us the law that must unconditionally be obeyed, 208because we perceive it to be the expression of moral necessity.
Our position, however, is different with regard to those other words, which require us to renounce possessions and the use of force, including law.
In using such words, Jesus wished in the first place to lead men on to a morality that should not be content to stop short at justice. Thus he attacks the delusion that it is possible to induce moral conduct in a man by a number of regulations curtailing his independence. At the same time He reveals the peculiar character of moral conduct; namely, the fact that it can be engendered only through the free movement of a man’s own mind. All sincere action originates in the free will of the agent; and such action alone can he understood as fulfilling the law of love. In order, like Jesus, to insist upon conduct both loving and sincere, it is necessary to combat the indolence that expects to find adequate guidance in what others say. To those who, then as now, have been led by moral insincerity and slackness to look for such regulations, or to imagine they already possessed them, Jesus addresses the words “But I say unto you.” He cannot possibly mean that His aim is to set before them for 209the first time right statutes of the same kind. On the contrary, because Jesus wishes to open the way for a right disposition within, He is intent upon destroying the preconceived idea that such regulations could even exist, as would be able, regarded as an external authority, to cover all and sundry occasions of moral conduct. Therefore He demands that, instead of acting on the obvious legal principle of retaliation, encroachments upon property protected by law should not be resisted, but met by voluntary surrender.
Taken as a pattern for exact imitation, is that particularly hard to follow, or not rather very much easier than the serious duties of love? An indolent man could desire no better way of making his morality easy than by regular obedience to such a command. It is true lie would not thereby attain to the superhuman; he would sink to the lowest depths. On the other hand, such a demand, if understood as a general rule, is not only extremely difficult, but absolutely impossible for any morally earnest man to fulfil. Therefore, the very men whom Jesus aimed at helping would be obliged to reject this saying, if presented to them as a general rule. Consequently, Jesus cannot possibly have intended it in that sense. 210To do so, would have been to act in opposition o His own mind. The fact that Christians have so long overlooked this, and still occasionally seem to forget it, may no doubt largely be due to that pious attitude which was thought to be necessary towards the words of Jesus,— a piety that expressly abandons any attempt to be morally earnest and sincere. When He who emancipates the conscience speaks, people think it unnecessary to inquire how His words can be understood as the expression of strict sincerity and earnest love; and thus Jesus, who was so full of sincerity and love, is made responsible when people seize upon His words, without any question as to sincerity and love, and suppose that by time-serving they can draw nigh to Him.
By such words as these, Jesus aimed at explaining, to all who have ears to hear, that demands may be made upon them so inexorable as to preclude any otherwise justifiable recourse to law. They arise out of particular circumstances wherein the disciple of Jesus has his Master with him, and the power of the mind of Jesus is suggested by the way in which He breaks down every barrier. We hold fast therefore to these demands, as capable at any moment of becoming practical for us. But as 211rules of universal application we cannot accept them. If we tried to obey them as general rules, we should in so doing cease to follow our Guide; for we could not find in them the Jesus whom we know. His power and His greatness shine forth, on the other hand, in the thought that none can be protected by his legal rights against the claims of moral necessity.
If then the words of Jesus be understood as due to His mental outlook, - they will not obscure the fact that the pursuit of power and possessions, as protected by law, is a moral obligation. Unless, in particular circumstances, love requires us to sacrifice these things, it is our moral duty to do battle for the conditions under which we exist on earth. Those who feel that. Jesus not merely summons them to earnest self-examination, but also hinders them in the fulfilment of this duty, surely make Him a kind of Jewish rabbi, who would keep us in the leading-strings of ordinances, and sustain us with something incomprehensible. Friedrich Naumann truly says: “He who considers that conduct alone to be Christian for which he can quote direct words of Jesus, must no longer be in favour of maintaining the State by a system of armed force” (op. cit. p. 48). Certainly any 212one who thinks of Jesus as a Jewish law-giver will be able to find a “complete Christianity only in monasticism, or in Tolstoi’s paths of anarchy. If he cannot decide in favour of these, he must, like the Catholic laity, be content with a semi-Christianity. In some of his statements Naumann himself seems to reach this result. When, for example, he says, “Not all fulfilment of duty is Christian” (op. cit. p. 42), he seems to mean that our moral consciousness may lead us beyond the limits of Christianity. In my address at Darmstadt I understood him in that sense; and many will still take him to mean that Christianity is far too kindly and gentle a force to co-operate in the human struggle for existence; that the character of Jesus is made up of compassion and modesty, love and asceticism; and that consequently lie is no leader for men who with the means given them in this world wish to attain some definite object. Perhaps it is a good thing that Naumann, with his incomparable gift of discovering the secret thoughts of the soul and speaking to the hearts of men of the present day, does give the general impression that in his own case an exceedingly rich and spiritual Christianity and resolute pursuance of secular work are clearly distinguished. For in this way he helps to pay 213off an old debt, incurred, not indeed by Luther, but by Lutheranism.
We must not overlook the judgment implied in the hard sayings wherein Jesus tells His disciples that it is necessary to renounce power and possessions. Unless we are ready to sacrifice that which is safeguarded by the law, we are false to our own manhood. To earn and enjoy all the gifts of civilisation is not the life appointed for man, the life that Jesus lived, and wished to reveal to His followers. The really free and fruitful life of the spirit prevails, not in all those forms of civilisation whereby we seek to enchain and dominate nature, but in a self-sacrificing love, produced in us after we ourselves have experienced an inexhaustible Love or become conscious of God. To man, called to be free, all those other good things are as much a menace as a help.
They are a means to life; but those who are troubled and anxious about them are in constant danger of forgetting life itself, in their pursuit of these means. The extent of the risk is proved by the fact that it is generally in the State, especially in foreign policy, that the dangers of power first appear, while those of possession become noticeable in the higher grades of finance. The noble folly of the cry 214“Disarm!” would be just as much in place in the field of competition as in that of real warfare. It is hard to say on which arena the violence is more terrible, the suffering worse. The Christian must never forget that the results of his labour—industrial, scientific, artistic, political—open up an abyss that threatens to engulf his future. The only salvation for his personal life lies in the power of his moral consciousness to impel him to something higher than all this pomp. Where this strong attraction to the other world is missing, Christianity is at an end. By it the difference between the Christianity possible to-day and that of primitive times is lessened, for in this respect both must needs be alike.
At the same time, let us thank God that such distinction is not wholly swept away. Through its existence we are detached from that which was transient in Jesus, to be the more closely united with Him who abides for ever and ever. When we perceive that the world in which we are placed is different from that of Jesus, we are prevented from allowing the dead circumstances of His life on earth to hide from us Him, the living mind, that overcame His world, as we must overcome ours.215
In early Christianity there are two points or equal importance to us,—the typical extreme of energy with which men sought another world; and an aversion to the tasks of civilisation, such as we cannot seriously, and therefore should not, desire. The first of these is a powerful reminder to us, but so too is the second, and the second is far more apt than the first to be disregarded by us. At the present time there can be few Christians who would not readily echo the following words of Friedrich Paulsen: “Even for us who are representatives of a modern civilisation, there would be something lacking if primitive Christianity, with its supramundane and unsecular ideas, were to die out altogether. Christianity mingles with the civilised life of modern nations something quite different that keeps it within the bounds of healthy moderation; like salt it preserves it from corruption. Since Jesus appeared on earth, a change has taken place: men can no longer be engrossed entirely in this world. Just as for us it is possible no longer to worship power, and deify the State or the representative of political authority, so we have ceased to devote ourselves entirely to power and possessions, to pleasure and to culture; in other words, we are no longer 216entirely satisfied by the benefits of civilisation. With Christianity there has been implanted in the soul of the Western races of humanity a new feeling, the feeling for another world, a world different from all that here gladdens and saddens the hearts of men.”66Deutsche Monatschrift für das gesamte Leben der Gegenwart” (German Monthly Review of Contemporary Life). October 1903, p. 126. Would that among the men of modern civilisation many really felt this working of Jesus in themselves, and had sufficient conscientiousness to give Him His due! At any rate, we are grateful to Paulsen for his excellent statement of the case.77My thanks are due also to several who took part in the discussion at Darmstadt, such as Pastor Christlieb and Licentiate Weinel, as well as to Dr. Rade for his article in the Christian World, for the way in which they insisted on renouncement of the world as a vital cord of Christianity, and endeavoured to supply what, in my address, they evidently felt to be lacking. They may rest assured that I would willingly have dwelt upon the subject with as much stress as they, but, in an address already too long, I was not able to treat of every important matter with equal emphasis. At the same time, the point on which they lay stress was not omitted entirely.
It is, however, even more important to ponder the meaning of the fact presented in the distinction here drawn, and actually made in history, between Jesus and His mode of life. Our217attitude towards the world cannot be that of Jesus; even the purpose to will that it should be so is stifled in the air that we breathe to-day. The state of affairs is very clearly described by Naumann, who says with truth: “Therefore we do not seek Jesus’ advice on points connected with the management of the State and political economy.” (Op. cit. p. 49.) But when he goes on to say: “I give my vote and I canvass for the German fleet, not because I am a Christian, but because I am a citizen, and because I have learned to renounce all hope of finding fundamental questions of State determined in the Sermon on the Mount,” we can detect a fallacy. He regards as painful renunciation what ought, on the part of the Christian, to be free decision and a voluntary act. If we have once understood the mind that Jesus wishes to produce in us, we cannot fail to see that we must become as free and independent as He.
As a result of that frame of mind whereby We are united with Him, we desire the existence of a national State, with a character and with duties with which Jesus was not yet acquainted; we will not let ourselves be led astray, even if in this form of human nature various 218features are as sharply opposed to the mode of life and standpoint of Jesus as is the dauntless use of arms. We cannot say, then, with Naumann, that, under pressure of troubles from which no living religion is free, we renounce a “complete Christianity.” For, after all, complete Christianity is the personal life of discipline and freedom revealed to man in Jesus. Anything in Jesus that we cannot understand as triumphant personal life is not for us part of a complete Christianity, but at the very most of a bygone Christianity. The inward independence that we gain when the good begins to work within us, is protected when we recognise the extent to which, in many points, Jesus’ conception of the world has, by the guidance of God, become remote from ours. This result of science and historical research we will not deplore, for it is God’s gift to us, and if resolutely turned to account, must put an end to much in Christianity that at present is of a sluggish and timid character. To remove this, we must further free ourselves entirely from the sentimental desire to adopt in our own lives even elements in Jesus which we cannot decide to be eternal. That is a kind of relic-worship that seems to be widely popular in the Evangelical Church, but is assuredly 219not in accordance with the mind of Jesus,88Baumgarten, in the Monatschrift für die kirchliche Praxis (Monthly Journal of Church Practice), 1903, p. 417, shows clearly that we lose nothing by deciding to hold fast to that Jesus alone of Whom we can honestly say, “The same for evermore.” I must protest against just one phrase he uses concerning the “average man, who stands in need of a certain literal legalism.” That we all require. though He would regard it in a kindly way, as betokening adherence to Him, if as yet of a hazy kind.
Naumann’s full discussion of the question also suggests something else that is necessary if we are to place in their true setting the moral directions of Jesus,—a setting it is essential to understand if we are to make right use of them.
Naumann says our life can never be a life wholly determined by Christianity. It would be more correct to say that it cannot be complete as a whole, because it can never be a life completely determined by morality. We are always in a state of transition from the constraint of a natural existence to the freedom of a personal life. Naumann, in his own way, describes the position admirably (op. cit. p. 40): “Go to the Pope, to the chief Court chaplain, the monk, the professor, the pious lady, the pious man of business, the pious peasant, the pious beggar, the pious grey-headed wife; 220everywhere you will find, bound up with the spirit of surrender and brotherly love, a natural basis of common sense, intent on the struggle for self-preservation.” “And now what shall we say? Shall we continually deplore this state of affairs, or simply acknowledge that it exists? Of the two courses, the latter appears to me the more straightforward and sincere. Whatever cannot be altered, must be clearly understood in its full bluntness, before one can be thoroughly reconciled to it. To put it briefly, I know that, in order to live, we must all recognise as the principle of our being, the natural conditions of the struggle for existence; and also that it is only upon this basis that we are free to realise the higher morality of the Gospel, as far as it is possible to do so upon such a foundation” (op. cit. p. 46). “The actual circumstances of life are given quantities, and there is but small scope to shape them freely. But it is just within this free space that our personal ego has power to work” (op. cit. p. 50). Here is a clear statement of a very important fact, which, to the great loss of Evangelical Christianity in Germany, Schleiermacher failed sufficiently to appreciate.99Cf. my “Ethik” (Ethics) 2nd edition. J. C. B. Mohr, 1901, pp. 116-122.221
Naumann, however, mistakes the nature of this fact. He thinks that in so far as we are subject to such necessity, our union with Jesus suffers; in reality we have to admit that what takes place is quite different. In what we do under this stress of compulsion, as creatures of circumstance or children of nature, we do not realise the good; we are not morally active. Yet as Christians we are not thereby separated from Jesus and His God. On the contrary, we serve Him aright if at the same time we live in the belief that by the Father of Spirits all things are created. Thus we believe that, in the stern pressure of circumstances, we experience fatherly care, which requires us to enter into competition with others, as a condition of real and effective life. This belief can have no place in us if we do not train the will to do ultimately everything in our power for the service of love, and so raise men higher and bind them to us in genuine fellowship. Now this faith in the power of the good element in real facts is supported and strengthened more by the fact of the Person of Jesus in this world than by anything else. Jesus is therein our Redeemer. For it is a case of redemption, when a man engaged in moral conflict is able with a good conscience to take his part in the 222life of nature that he must share if he is to exist at all and to any purpose. In the Words of Jesus the conception of morality, as independent and productive love, is clearly developed; and when the goal of morality was thus disclosed to mankind, a fact was at the same time supplied that brings within the reach of Christians a moral existence upon earth, by leading us to faith in the power of this love, or becoming to us a revelation of God.
To live for others of our own free will is possible only at those moments when we can feel that the eternal revelation of God, the victorious power of love, gives us a joy which time cannot impair, nor eternity exhaust. We believe that when men are hampered by a feeling of guilt, and uncertainty as to their fate, God has many ways of setting them free to live for others. Yet the means are ultimately always the same that God uses: the power of personal goodness, which in its self-sacrifice humbles and raises a man at the same time. This memorable experience of moral contact may open our eyes to the redeeming power of Jesus. For we know no personal goodness expressing in such spotless purity the will to sacrifice itself for us, as that of Jesus in His Death. If we are sufficiently in earnest not to 223let this fact escape us, an experience will one day be granted us which, for the individual as for the human race, is the beginning of a new life. The sense of being forsaken during an endless night, oppressed by utter loneliness, will cease when the wonderful figure of Jesus compels us to open our hearts. In Him alone in all this world is given to us that pure manifestation of a power to which we gladly unfold ourselves and unreservedly yield. This joyful trust in the mysterious greatness of Jesus is our redemption from moral helplessness. We must indeed ever rouse ourselves afresh, and strive to attain the peace of mind in which this happiness may grow; and, if we do, our joy in the gift of God in Jesus Christ will continually gain strength, and become in us a power to deal honestly with his Words and conform to the knowledge of righteousness to which we are led by them. Then, as the redeemed of Jesus, we shall be united with Him, and really obey His directions. That is a simple account of the substance of the Gospel; any one may understand it who does not shrink from the plain truth of moral facts, and has no desire to ignore the realities around him. But we all need the Gospel; for we all wander in darkness, isolated in our inmost being, till this light shines in our hearts.224
We must accept the directions of Jesus, neither as enforced and arbitrary laws, nor yet as mere outbursts of emotion, but as the effulgence of His mind. They are not cords He has wound about us, but clues to direct us to freedom. Tf in that sense we apprehend them, we shall further perceive that the spirit that moves within them is also that which is truly active in the life of the present time. For the power to assert itself, that is characteristic of life, belongs particularly to this spirit, which is bent only on serving; and the ease with which a living force adapts itself to circumstances is found nowhere so much as in this will to love, invariably intent upon an eternal goal. There can be no doubt as to whether the directions of Jesus can be harmonised with the claims of social morality to-day; but it is questionable whether many as yet are able to understand them. To do so must be difficult for men by whom Nietzsche is “falsely esteemed a philosopher”; and by whom, in their passing moods of disgust with civilisation, Tolstoi is honoured as the prophet of a new era of moral perception. Still harder is it for those who, possessing the Christian tradition, nevertheless are so uncertain and confused that they seek for new revelations 225in Buddhism, or even in occultism. Least able, however, to understand the true force of the moral ideas of Jesus,—the unity of His mind,—are the numbers of religious people who are practically tied to the principle of pharisaic morality, according to which certain rules may teach us the nature of the good, and a will that is ready to be hound by them may be accounted good. Yet even among all these, every one will at length understand His thoughts, who draws so near to the person of Jesus that he is conscious of His power to deliver, and becomes free for service as He was. May we Christians, perceiving how little the moral clearness of Jesus has up till now been allowed to operate among us, have our consciences stirred to discontent, and our hearts filled with zeal!
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