Religion New-Given - Part 2
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
What was wanted, then, was a fuller description of righteousness. Now, it is clear that righteousness, the central object of Israel's concern, was the central object of Jesus Christ's concern also. Of the development and of the cardinal points of his teaching we shall have to speak more at length by-and-by ; all we have to do here is to pass them in a rapid preliminary review. Israel had said : ` To him that ordereth his conversation right shall be shown the salvation of God.' And Jesus said : ' Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees,'—that is, of the very people who then passed for caring most about righteousness and practising it most rigidly,—'ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.' s But righteousness had by Jesus Christ's time lost, in great measure, the mighty impulse which emotion gives ; and in losing this, had lost also the mighty sanction which happiness gives. `The whole head was sick and the whole heart faint ;' the glad and immediate sense of being in the right way, in the way of peace, was gone ; the sense of being wrong and astray, of sin, and of helplessness under sin, was oppressive. The thing was, by giving a fuller idea of righteousness, to reapply emotion to it, and by thus reapplying emotion, to disperse the feeling of being amiss and helpless, to give the sense of being right and effective ; to restore, in short, to righteousness the sanction of happiness.
But this could only be done by attending to that inward world of feelings and dispositions which Judaism had too much neglected. The first need, therefore, for Israel at that time, was to make religion cease to be mainly a national and social matter, and become mainly 'a personal matter. ' Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, that the outside may be clean also ! ' —this was the very ground-principle in Jesus Christ's 'teaching. Instead of attending so much to your outward acts, attend, he said, first of all to your inward thoughts, to the state of your heart and feelings. This doctrine has perhaps been over-strained and misapplied by certain people since ; but it was the lesson which at that time was above all needed. It is a great progress beyond even that advanced maxim of pious Jews ' To do justice and judgment is more accept-able than sacrifice.' For to do justice and judgment is still, as we have remarked, something external, and may leave the feelings untouched, uncleared, dead. What was wanted was to plough up, clear, and quicken the feelings themselves. And this is what Jesus Christ did.
' My son, give me thy heart!' says the teacher of righteousness in the golden age of Israel. And when Israel had the Eternal revealed to him, and founded our religion, he gave his heart. But the time came when this direct vision ceased, and Israel's religion was a mere affair of tradition, and of doctrines and rules received from without. Then it might be truly said of this professed servant of the Eternal : ' This people honour me with their lips, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.' 1 With little or no power of distinguishing between what was rule of ceremonial and what was rule of conduct, they followed the prescriptions of their religion with a servile and sullen mind, ' precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little,' and no end to it all. What a change since the days when it was joy to the just to do judgment 3 The prophets saw clearly enough the evil, nay, they could even point to the springs which must be touched in order to work a cure. But they could not press these springs steadily enough or skilfully enough to work the cure themselves.
Jesus Christ's new and different way of putting things was the secret of his succeeding where the prophets failed. And this new way he had of putting things is what is indicated by the expression epieikeia,-an expression best rendered, as I have elsewhere said, by the phrase : ' sweet reasonableness.' For that which is epieikes is that which has an air of truth and likelihood ; and that which has an air of truth and likelihood is prepossessing. Now, never were there utterances concerning conduct and righteousness,—Israel's master-concern, and the master-topic of the New Testament as well as of the Old,—which so carried with them an air of consummate truth and likelihood as Jesus Christ's did ; and never, therefore, were any utterances so irresistibly prepossessing. He put things in such a way that his hearer was led to take each rule or fact of conduct by its inward side, its effect on the heart and character ; then the reason of the thing, the meaning of what had been mere matter of blind rule, flashed upon him. The hearer could distinguish between what was only ceremony, and what was conduct ; and the hardest rule of conduct came to appear to him infinitely reasonable and natural, and there-fore infinitely prepossessing. A return upon themselves, and a consequent intuition of the truth and reason of the matter of conduct in question, gave to men for right action the clearness, spirit, energy, happiness, they had lost.
This power of returning upon themselves, and seeing by a flash the truth and reason of things, his disciples learnt of Jesus. They learnt too, from observing him and his ex-ample, much which, without perhaps any conscious process of being apprehended in its reason, was discerned instinctively to be true and life-giving as soon as it was recommended in Christ's words and illustrated by Christ's example. Two lessons in particular they learnt in this way, and added them to the great lesson of self-examination and appeal to the inner man, with which they started. `Whoever will come after me, let him renounce himself and take up his cross daily and follow me ! he that will save his life shall lose it, he that will lose his life shall save it.' ' This was one of the two. `Learn of me that I am mild and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls!' was the other. Jesus made his followers first look within and examine themselves ; he made them feel that they had a best and real self as opposed to their ordinary and apparent one, and that their happiness depended on saving this best self from being overborne. Then to find his own soul, his true and permanent self, became set up in man's view as his chief concern, as the secret of happiness ; and so it really is. `How is a man advantaged if he gain the whole world and forfeit himself?' — was the searching question which Jesus made men ask themselves. And by recommending, and still more by himself exemplifying in his own practice, by showing active in himself, with the most prepossessing pureness, clearness, and beauty, the two qualities by which our ordinary self is indeed most essentially counteracted, self-renouncement and mildness, he made his followers feel that in these qualities lay the secret of their best self ; that to attain them was in the highest degree requisite and natural, and that a man's whole happiness depended upon' it.
Self-examination, self-renouncement, and mildness, were, therefore, the great means by which Jesus Christ renewed righteousness and religion. All these means are indicated in the Old Testament : God requireth truth in the inward' parts! Not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure! Seek meekness! But how far more strongly are they forced upon the attention in the New Testament, and set up clearly as the central mark for our endeavours ! Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup that the outside may be clean also ! Whoever will come after me, let him renounce himself and take up his cross daily and follow me! Learn of me that I am mild and lowly in heart, and ye shall &d rest unto your souls! So that, although personal religion is clearly recommended in the Old Testament, nevertheless these injunctions of the New Testament effect so much more for the extrication and establishment of personal religion than the general exhortations in the Old to offer the sacrifice of righteousness, to do judgment, that, comparatively with the Old, the New Testament may be said to have really founded inward and personal religion. While the Old Testament says : Attend to conduct! the New Testament says : Attend to the feelings and dispositions whence conduct proceeds! And as attending to conduct had very much degenerated into deadness and formality, attending to the springs of conduct was a revelation, a revival of intuitive and fresh perceptions, a touching of morals with emotion, a discovering of religion, similar to that which had been effected when Israel, struck with the abiding power not of man's causing which makes for righteousness, and filled with joy and awe by it, had in the old days named God the Eternal. Man came under a new dispensation, and made with God a second covenant.