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LECTURE VI

AT the close of the last lecture I referred to the problem presented by “the poor” in the Gospel. As a rule, the poor of whom Jesus was thinking were also those whose hearts are open towards God, and hence what is said of them cannot be applied without further ceremony to the poor generally. In considering the social question we must, therefore, put aside all those sayings of Jesus which obviously refer to the poor in the spiritual sense. These include, for instance, the first Beatitude, whether we accept it in the form in which it appears in Luke or in Matthew. The Beatitudes associated with it make it clear that Jesus was thinking of the poor whose hearts were inwardly open towards God. But, as we have no time to go through all the sayings separately, we must content ourselves with some leading considerations in order to establish the most important points.

Jesus regarded the possession of worldly goods as a grave danger for the soul, as hardening the heart, entangling us in earthly cares, and seducing us into 102a vulgar life of pleasure. “A rich man shall hardly enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The contention that Jesus desired, so to speak, to about a general condition of poverty and distress, in order that he might afterwards make it the basis of his kingdom of heaven—a contention which we encounter in different forms—is erroneous. The very opposite is the case. Want he called want, and evil he called evil. Far prom showing them any favour, he made the greatest and strongest efforts to combat and destroy them. In this sense, too, his whole activity was a saving activity, that is to say, a struggle against evil and against want. Nay, we might almost think that he over-estimated the depressing load of poverty and affliction; that he occupied himself too much with it; and that, taking the moral bearings of life as a whole, he attributed too great an importance to those forces of sympathy and mercy which are expected to counteract this state of things. But neither, of course, would this view be correct. He knows of a power which he thinks still worse than want and misery, namely, sin; and he knows of a force still more emancipating than mercy, namely, forgiveness. His discourses and actions leave no doubt upon this point. It is certain, therefore, that Jesus never and nowhere wished to keep up poverty and misery, but, on the contrary, he combated them himself and bid others 103combat them. The Christians who in the course of the Church’s history were for countenancing mendicancy and recommending universal pauperisation, or sentimentally coquetted with misery and distress, cannot with any show of reason appeal to him. Upon those, however, who were anxious to devote their whole lives to the preaching of the Gospel and the ministry of the Word—he did not ask this of everyone, but regarded it as a special calling from God and a special gift—upon them he enjoined the renunciation of all that they had, that is to say, all worldly goods. Yet that does not mean that he relegated them to a life of beggary. On the contrary, they were to be certain that they would find their bread and their means of livelihood. What he meant by that we learn from a saying of his which was accidentally omitted from the Gospels, but has been handed down to us by the apostle Paul. In the ninth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians he writes: “The Lord hath ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” An absence of worldly possessions he required of the ministers of the Word, that is, of the missionaries, in order that they might live entirely for their calling. But he did not mean that they were to beg. This is a Franciscan misconception which is perhaps suggested by Jesus’ words but “carries us away from his meaning.

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In this connexion allow me to digress for a moment from our subject. Those members of the Christian churches who have become professional evangelists or ministers of the Word in their parishes have not, as a rule, found it necessary to follow the Lord’s injunction to dispossess themselves of their worldly goods. So far as priests or pastors, as the case may be, and not missionaries, are concerned, it may be said with some justice that the injunction does not refer to them; for it presupposes that a man has undertaken the office of propagating the Gospel. It may be said, further, that the Lord’s injunctions, over and above those relating to the commandment of love, must not be made into inviolable laws, as otherwise Christian liberty will be impaired, and the high privilege of the Christian religion to adapt its shape to the course of history, free from all constraint, will be prejudiced. But still it may be asked whether it would not have been an extraordinary gain to Christianity if those who are called to be its ministers,—the missionaries and pastors, had followed the Lord’s rules. At the very least, it ought to be a strict principle with them to concern themselves with property and worldly goods only so far as will prevent them being a burden to others, and beyond that to renounce them. I entertain no doubt that the time will come when the world will tolerate a life of luxury among those 105who are charged with the cure of souls as little as it tolerates priestly government. Our feelings in this respect are becoming finer, and that is an advantage. It will no longer be thought fitting, in the higher sense of the word, for anyone to preach resignation and contentment to the poor, who is well off himself, and zealously concerned for the increase of his property. A healthy man may well offer consolation to the sick; but how shall a man of property convince those who have none that worldly goods are of no value? The Lord’s injunction that the minister of the Word is to divest himself of worldly possessions will still come to be honoured in the history of his communion.

Jesus laid down no social programme for the suppression of poverty and distress, if by programme we mean a set of definitely prescribed regulations. With economical conditions and contemporary circumstances he did not interfere. Had he become entangled in them; had he given laws which were ever so salutary for Palestine, what would have been gained by it? They would have served the needs of a day, and to-morrow would have been antiquated; to the Gospel they would have been a burden and a source of confusion. We must be careful not to exceed the limits set to such injunctions as “Give to him that asketh thee” and others of a similar kind. They must be understood in connexion 106with the time and the situation. They refer to the immediate wants of the applicant, which were satisfied with a piece of bread, a drink of water, an article of clothing to cover his nakedness. We must remember that in the Gospel we are in the East, and in circumstances which from an economical point of view are somewhat undeveloped. Jesus was no social reformer. He could say on occasion, “The poor ye have always with you,” and thereby, it seems, indicate that the conditions would undergo no essential change. He refused to be a judge between contending heirs, and a thousand problems of economics and social life he would have just as resolutely put aside as the unreasonable demand that he would settle a question of inheritance. Yet again and again people have ventured to deduce some concrete social programme from the Gospel. Even evangelical theologians have made the attempt, and are still making it—an endeavour hopeless in itself and full of danger, but absolutely bewildering and intolerable when the people try to “fill up the gaps”—and they are many—to be found in the Gospel with regulations and programmes drawn from the Old Testament.

No religion, not even Buddhism, ever went to work with such an energetic social message, and so strongly identified itself with that message as we see to be the case in the Gospel. How so? Because 107the words “Love thy neighbour as thyself” were spoken in deep earnest; because with these words Jesus turned a light upon all the concrete relations of life, upon the world of hunger, poverty and misery; because, lastly, he uttered them as a religious, nay, as the religious maxim. Let me remind you once more of the parable of the Last Judgment, where the whole question of a man’s worth and destiny is made dependent on whether he has practised the love of his neighbour; let me remind you of the other parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus. I should like to cite another story, too, which is little known, because it occurs in this wording not in our four Gospels but in the Gospel of the Hebrews. The story of the rich young man is there handed down as follows:

A rich man said to the Lord: Master, what good must I do that I may have life? He answered him: Man, keep the law and the prophets. The other answered: That have I done. He said to him: Go, sell all thy possessions and distribute them to the poor, and come and follow me. Then the rich man began to scratch his head, and the speech did not please him. And the Lord said to him: How canst thou say: I have kept the law and the prophets, as it is written in the law, Love thy neighbour as thyself? Behold, many of thy brethren, sons of Abraham, lie in dirty rags and die of hunger, and thy house is full of many goods, and nothing comes out of it to them.

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You observe how Jesus felt the material wants of the poor, and how he deduced a remedy for such distress from the commandment: “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” People ought not to speak of loving their neighbours if they can allow men beside them to starve and die in misery. It is not only that the Gospel preaches solidarity and the helping of others; it is in this message that its real import consists. In this sense it is profoundly socialistic, just as it is also profoundly individualistic, because it establishes the infinite and independent value of every human soul. Its tendency to union and brotherliness is not so much an accidental phenomenon in its history as the essential feature of its character. The Gospel aims at founding a community among men as wide as human life itself and as deep as human need. As has been truly said, its object is to transform the socialism which rests on the basis of conflicting interests into the socialism which rests on the consciousness of a spiritual unity. In this sense its social message can never be outbid. In the course of the ages people’s opinions as to what constitutes “an existence worthy of a man” have, thank God, become much changed and improved. But Jesus, too, knew of this way of measuring things. Did he not once refer, almost bitterly, to his own position: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests: but the 109Son of Man hath not where to lay his head”? A dwelling, sufficient daily bread, cleanliness—all these needs he touched upon, and their satisfaction he held to be necessary, and a condition of earthly life. If a man cannot procure them for himself, others are to step in and do it for him. There can be no doubt, therefore, that if Jesus were with us to-day he would side with those who are making great efforts to relieve the hard lot of the poor and procure them better conditions of life. The fallacious principle of the free play of forces, of the “live and let live” principle—a better name for it would be the “live and let die”—is entirely opposed to the Gospel. And it is not as our servants, but as our brothers, that we are to help the poor.

Lastly, our riches do not belong to us alone. The Gospel has prescribed no regulations as to how we are to use them, but it leaves us in no doubt that we are to regard ourselves not as owners but as administrators in the service of our neighbour. Nay, it almost looks as if Jesus contemplated the possibility of a union among men in which wealth, as private property in the strict sense of the word, was non-existent. Here, however, we touch upon a question which is not easy to decide, and which, perhaps, ought not to be raised at all, because Jesus’ eschatological ideas and his particular horizon enter into it. Nor is it a question that we need 109raise. It is the disposition which Jesus kindled in his disciples towards poverty and want that is all-important.

The Gospel is a social message, solemn and overpowering in its force; it is the proclamation of solidarity and brotherliness, in favour of the poor. But the message is bound up with the recognition of the infinite value of the human soul, and is contained in what Jesus said about the kingdom of God. We may also assert that it is an essential part of what . he there said. But laws or ordinances or injunctions bidding us forcibly alter the conditions of the age in which we may happen to be living are not to be found in the Gospel.

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

The problem dealing with the relation of the Gospel to law embraces two leading questions: (I) the relation of the Gospel to constituted authority; (2) the relation of the Gospel to legal ordinances generally, in so far as they possess a wider range than is covered by the conception “constituted authority.” It is not easy to mistake the answer to the first question, but the second is more complicated and beset with greater difficulties; and very diverse opinions are entertained in regard to it.

As to Jesus’ relation to the constituted authorities 111of his day, I need scarcely remind you again in express terms that he was no political revolutionary, and that he laid down no political programme. Although he is sure that his Father would send him twelve legions of angels were he to ask Him, he did not ask Him. When they wanted to make him a king, he disappeared. Ultimately, indeed, when he thought well to reveal himself to the whole nation as the Messiah—how he came to the decision and carried it out are points in which we are left in the dark—he made his entry into Jerusalem as a king; but of the modes of presenting himself which prophecy suggested, he chose that which was most remote from a political manifestation. The way in which he understood his Messianic duty is shown by his driving the buyers and sellers from the temple. In this cleansing of the temple it was not the constituted authorities whom he attacked, but those who had assumed to themselves rights of authority over the soul. In every nation, side by side with the constituted authorities, an unconstituted authority is established, or rather two unconstituted authorities. They are the political church and the political parties. What the political church wants, in the widest sense of the word and under very various guises, is to rule; to get hold of men’s souls and bodies, consciences and worldly goods. What political parties want is the same; and when the 112heads of these parties set themselves up as popular leaders, a terrorism is developed which is often worse than the fear of royal despots. It was not otherwise in Palestine in Jesus’ day. The priests and the Pharisees held the nation in bondage and murdered its soul. For this unconstituted “authority” Jesus showed a really emancipating and refreshing disrespect. He was never tired of attacking it—nay, in his struggle with it he roused himself to a state of holy indignation—of exposing its wolfish nature and hypocrisy, and of declaring that its day of judgment was at hand. In whatever domain it had any warrant to act, he accepted it: “Go and show yourselves unto the priests.” So far as they really proclaimed God’s law he recognised them: “Whatever they tell you to do, that do.” But these were the people to whom he read the terrible lecture given in Matthew xxiii.: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness.” Towards these spiritual “authorities,” then, he filled his disciples with a holy want of respect, and even of “King” Herod he spoke with bitter irony: “Go ye and tell that fox.” On the other hand, so far as we can judge from the scanty evidence before us, his attitude towards the real authorities, those who 113wielded the sword, was different. He recognised that they had an actual right to be obeyed, and he never withdrew his own person from their jurisdiction. Nor are we to understand the commandment against swearing as including an oath taken before a magistrate. No one with a grain of salt, as Wellhausen has rightly said, can miss the inner meaning of this commandment. On the other hand, we must be careful not to rate Jesus’ position in regard to constituted authority too high. People usually appeal to the often quoted saying: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” But this saying is often misunderstood. Wherever it is explained as meaning that Jesus recognised God and Caesar as the two powers which in some way or other exist side by side, or are even in secret alliance, it is taken in a wrong sense. Jesus had no such thought; on the contrary, he spoke of the two powers as separate and divorced from each other. God and Caesar are the lords of two quite different provinces. Jesus settled the question that was in dispute by pointing out this difference, which is so great that no conflict between the powers can arise. The penny is an earthly coin and bears Caesar’s image; let it be given, then, to Caesar, but—this we may take as the complement—the soul and all its powers have nothing to do with Caesar; they belong to God. In 114a word, the all-important matter, in Jesus’ view, is not to mix up the two provinces. When we are once quite clear about this, then we may go on to remark on the significance of the fact that Jesus enjoined compliance with the demand for payment of the imperial taxes. No doubt it is important to note that he himself respected the constituted authorities, and wished to see them respected; but in regard to the estimate which he formed of them, what he said is, at the least, of a neutral character.

On the other hand, we possess another saying of Jesus in regard to constituted authority which is much less often quoted, and nevertheless affords us a deeper insight into the Lord’s thoughts than the one which we have just discussed. Let us consider it for a moment. The fact that it forms a point of transition to the consideration of the attitude which Jesus took up in regard to legal regulations in general also makes it worth our attention. In Mark x. 42, we read:

Jesus called them (i. e., his disciples) to him and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them: and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever shall be great among you shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest shall be servant of all.

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Observe here, first of all, the “transvaluation of values.” Jesus simply reverses the usual process: to be great and to occupy the foremost position means, in his view, to serve; his disciples are to aim, not at ruling, but at each being all other men’s servant. Next observe the opinion which he has of authority as it was then constituted. Their functions are based on force, and this is the very reason which, in Jesus’ view, puts them outside the moral sphere; nay, there is a fundamental opposition between it and them: “Thus do the earthly rulers.” Jesus tells his disciples to act differently. Law and legal ordinance, as resting on force only, on actual power and its exercise, have no moral value. Nevertheless Jesus did not command men not to subject themselves to these authorities; they were to rate them according to their value, that is, according to their non-value, and they were to arrange their own lives on other principles, namely, on the opposite; they were not to use force, but to serve. Here we have already passed to the general ground of legal ordinance, for it seems to be an essential feature of all law to secure observance by force when called in question.

When we approach the second point, the relation of the Gospel to legal ordinance generally, we again encounter two different views. One of them—in modern times more particularly maintained, in his 116treatise on Canon Law, by Professor Sohm of Leipzig, who presents points of contact with Tolstoi—lays down that in their respective natures law and the world of spiritual things are diametrically opposed; and that it is in contradiction with the character of the Gospel and the community founded thereon that the Church has developed any legal ordinances at all. In his survey of the earliest development of the Church Professor Sohm has gone so far as to see in the moment when Christendom gave a place in its midst to legal ordinances a second Fall. Nevertheless he is unwilling to impugn the law in its own province. But Tolstoi refuses, in the name of the Gospel, to allow the law any rights at all. He maintains that the leading principle of the Gospel is that a man is never to insist upon his rights, and that not even constituted authority is to offer any external resistance to evil. Authority and law are simply to cease. Opposed to Tolstoi there are others who more or less positively contend that the Gospel takes law and legal relations under its protection; that it sanctifies them and thereby raises them into a divine sphere. These are, briefly, the two leading points of view which are here in conflict.

As regards the latter, there is little that need be said. It is a mockery of the Gospel to say that it protects and sanctifies everything that presents 117itself as law and legal relation at a given moment. Leaving a thing alone and bearing with it are not the same as sanctioning and preserving it. Nay, it is a serious question whether even bearing with it is not too much to say, and whether Tolstoi is not right. The difficulty of the matter makes it necessary that I should take you back a little way in Jewish history.

For hundreds of years the poor and oppressed in the people of Israel had been crying out for justice. It was a cry which still affects us to-day as we hear it in the words of the prophets and out of the prayers of the Psalmists; but time after time it passed unheeded. None of the legal regulations in force was free from the power of tyrannical authorities, to be distorted and exploited by them just as they saw fit. In speaking of legal regulations and their exercise, and in examining Jesus’ attitude towards them, we must not straightway think of our own legal relations, which have grown up partly on the basis of Christianity. Jesus was of a nation the greater part of which had for generations been in vain asking for their rights, and which was familiar with law only in the form of force. The necessary consequence was that in such a nation a feeling of despair arose in regard to the law; despair, as much of the possibility of ever getting justice on earth as, conversely, of the moral claim of 118law to have any validity at all. We can see something of this temper even in the Gospel. But there is a second consideration which is a standing corrective to this temper. Jesus, like all truly religious minds, was firmly convinced that in the end God will do justice. If He does not do it here, He will do it in the Beyond, and that is the main point. In this connexion there was, in Jesus’ view, nothing objectionable in the idea of law in the sense of a just recompense; it was a lofty, nay, a dominating idea. Just recompense is the function of God’s majesty; to what extent it is modified by His mercy is a question which we need not here consider. The contention that Jesus took a depreciatory view of law as such, and of the exercise of law, cannot be sustained for a moment. On the contrary, everyone is to get his rights; nay more, his disciples are one day to share in administering God’s justice and themselves judge. It was only the justice which was exercised with violence and therefore unjustly, the justice which lay upon the nation like a tyrannical and bloody decree, that he set aside. He believed in true justice, and he was certain, too, that it would prevail; so certain, that he did not think it necessary for justice to use force in order to remain justice.

This brings us to the last point. We possess a number of Jesus’ sayings in which he directs his 119disciples to renounce all their lawful demands, and so forego their just rights. You all know those sayings. Let me remind you of one only: “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” The demand here made seems to proscribe law and disorganise all the legal relations of life. Again and again these words have been appealed to with the object of showing either that Christianity is incompatible with life as it actually is, or that Christendom has fallen away from the principles of its Master. By way of reply to this argument the following observations may be made:—(i.) Jesus was, as we have seen, steeped in the conviction that God does justice; in the end, therefore, the oppressor will not prevail, but the oppressed will get his rights. (ii.) Earthly rights are in themselves of little account, and it does not much matter if we lose them. (iii.) The world is in such an unhappy state, injustice has got so much the upper hand in it, that the victim of oppression is incapable of making good his rights even if he tries. (iv.) As God —and this is the main point—mingles His justice with mercy, and lets His sun shine on the just and on the unjust, so Jesus’ disciple is to show love to his enemies and disarm them by gentleness. Such 120are the thoughts which underlie those lofty sayings and at the same time set them their due limits. And is the demand which they contain really so supramundane, so impossible? Do we not in the circle of our family and friends advise those who belong to us to act in the same way, and not to return evil for evil and abuse for abuse? What family, what society, could continue to exist, if every member of it were anxious only to pursue his own rights, and did not learn to renounce them even when attacked? Jesus regards his disciples as a circle of friends, and he looks out beyond this circle to a league of brothers which will take shape in the future and extend. But, we are asked, are we in all cases to renounce the pursuit of our rights in the face of our enemies? are we to use no weapons but those of gentleness? To speak with Tolstoi, are the magistrates not to inflict punishment, and thereby to be effaced? are nations not to fight for house and home when they are wantonly attacked? I venture to maintain that, when Jesus spoke the words which I have quoted, he was not thinking of such cases, and that to interpret them in this direction involves a clumsy and dangerous misconception of their meaning. Jesus never had anyone but the individual in mind, and the abiding disposition of the heart in love. To say that this disposition cannot coexist with the pursuit of one’s 121own rights, with the conscientious administration of justice, and with the stern punishment of crime, is a piece of prejudice, in support of which we may appeal in vain to the letter of those sayings, which did not aim at being laws or, therefore, at prescribing regulations. This much, however, must be added, in order that the loftiness of the demand which the Gospel makes may be in no way abated: Jesus’ disciple ought to be able to renounce the pursuit of his rights, and ought to co-operate in forming a nation of brothers, in which justice is done, no longer by the aid of force, but by free obedience to the good, and which is united not by legal regulations but by the ministry of love.

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