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§ 74. Distinction between Positive (Material) and Negative (Formal) Accommodation; the latter necessary, the former inadmissible.

We must carefully separate false from true accommodation; there is a broad distinction between a negative accommodation of the form and a positive one of the substance. The teacher who adopts the latter will confirm his hearers in an error, in order to gain their confidence, and to infuse into their minds, even by means of error, some important truth. But the laws of morality do not admit that “the end sanctifies the means;” nor can the establishment of error ever be a just means of propagating truth. And it is as impolitic as it is immoral; for error, as well as truth, contains within itself a fructifying germ, and no one can predict what fruit it will produce. He who makes use of it renounces at once the character of a teacher of truth; no man will trust him, and he can therefore exert a spiritual influence upon none. There is no criterion for distinguishing the truth of his aims from the falsehood of his means. Such an accommodation as this was utterly repugnant to the holy nature of Him who called himself The Truth; and there is no trace of it to be found in his teachings.

It is quite a different thing with the negative and formal accommodation. As Christ’s sole calling as a teacher was to implant the fundamental truths of the kingdom of God in the human consciousness, he could not stop by the way to battle with errors utterly unconnected with his object, and remote from the interests of religion and morality. Thus he made use of common terms and expressions without entering into an examination of all the false notions that might be attached to them. He called diseases, for instance, by the names in common use; but we should not be justified in concluding that he thereby stamped with his Divine authority the ordinary notions of their origin, as implied in the names. Nor does his citation of the books of the Old Testament by the accustomed titles imply any sanction on his part of the prevalent opinions in regard to their authors. We must never forget that his words, as he himself has told us, are Spirit and Life; and that no scribe of the old Rabbinical school, no slave to the letter, can rightly comprehend and apply them.

Nor did he make use of positive accommodation in seizing, as he did, upon those religious conceptions of the times which concealed the germ of truth under material forms. It was not his aim to preserve the mere shell, the outward form, but to disengage the inner truth from its covering, and bring it out into free and pure developement. This he could only effect by causing men to change their whole carnal mode of thinking, of which the material form of representation, just referred to, was only one of the results. These remarks apply especially to the use which he made of the common outward images of the 115Messianic world-dominion; which he certainly would not have employed, if they had not contained a substantive truth in regard to the developement of the kingdom of God from the Old Testament standpoint.174174   See p. 86 and 87. To attack these material ideas directly, and present the pure, spiritual truth as a ready-made system, would have been fruitless; it was only from the deeper ground in which the erroneous tendencies were imbedded that they could be successfully overthrown. And Christ, taking the truth that lay in the outward form as his point of departure, attacked the root of all the separate errors; the selfish, carnal mind, the longing for worldly rank and rewards; and implanted, on the other hand, the purely spiritual ideas of the Divine kingdom, as seeds from which, in due time, a free reaction against the material tendency would spontaneously arise.

Of the same character was the use which Christ made of figurative analogies like that in Matt., xii., 43,175175   We shall have occasion to speak of this passage more fully in another connexion. et seq. In such cases the figurative representation was employed, like the parable, to exhibit an idea vividly to the minds of his hearers, while, at the same time, its connexion was such that he could not possibly be misunderstood.


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