The Testimony Of Jesus To Himself
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IN our third chapter we passed in brief review the teaching of Jesus. But there the objection met us, that what attested Jesus Christ was miracles, and the preternatural fulfilment in him of certain detailed predictions made about him long before. We had to pause and deal with this objection. And now, as it disperses, we come in full view of our old point again :—that what did attest Jesus Christ, was his restoration of the intuition. Jesus Christ found Israel all astray, with an endless talk about God, the law, righteousness, the kingdom, everlasting life,—and no real hold upon any one of them. Israel's old, sure proof of being in the right way, his test which anybody could at once apply,—the sanction of joy and peace,—was plainly wanting. ` O Eternal, blessed is the man that putteth his trust in thee," was a corner-stone of Israel's religion. Now, the Jewish people, however they might talk about putting their trust in the Eternal, were evidently, as they stood there before Jesus, not blessed at all ; and they knew it themselves as well as he did. ' Great peace have they who love thy law,' was another cornet-stone. But the Jewish people had at that time in its soul as little peace as it had joy and blessedness ; it was seething with inward unrest, irritation, and trouble. Yet the way of the Eternal was most indubitably a way of peace and joy ; so, if Israel felt no peace and no joy, Israel could not be walking in the way of the Eternal. Here we have the firm, unchanging ground, on which the operations of Jesus both began and always; proceeded.
And it is to be observed that Jesus by no means gave a new, more precise, scientific definition of God, but took up this term just as Israel used it, to stand for the Eternal that loveth righteousness. If therefore this term was, in Israel's use of it, not a term of science, but, as we say, a term of common speech, of poetry and eloquence, thrown out at a vast object of consciousness not fully covered by it, so it was in Jesus Christ's use of it also. And if the substratum of real affirmation in the term was, with Israel, not the affirmation of `a great Personal First Cause, the moral and intelligent Governor of the universe,' but the affirmation of an enduring Power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness,' so it remained with Jesus Christ likewise. He set going a great process of searching and sifting; but this process had for its direct object the idea of righteousness, and only touched the idea of God through this, and not independently of this and immediately. If the idea of righteousness was changed, this implied, undoubtedly, a corresponding change in the idea of the Power that makes for righteousness; but in this manner only, and to this extent, does the teaching of Jesus redefine the idea of God.
But search and sift and renew the idea of righteousness Jesus did. And though the work of Jesus, like the name of God, calls up in the believer a multitude of emotions and associations far more than any brief definition can cover, yet, remembering Jeremy Taylor's advice to avoid exhortations to get Christ, to be in Christ, and to seek some more distinct and practical way of speaking of him, we shall not do ill, perhaps, if we summarise to our own minds his work by saying, that he restored the intuition of God through transforming the idea of righteousness; and that, to do this, he brought a method, and he brought a secret. And of those two great words which fill such a place in his gospel, repentance and peace,— as we see that his Apostles, when they preached his gospel, preached `Repentance unto life' and ' Peace through Jesus Christ,' —of these two great words, one, repentance, attaches itself, we shall find, to his method, and the other, peace, to his secret.
There was no question between Jesus Christ and the Jews as to the object to aim at. 'If thou wouldst enter into life, keep the commandments,' said Jesus. And Israel, too, on his part, said : 'He that keepeth the commandments keepeth his own soul.' But what commandments? The commandments of God; about this, too, there was no question. But : 'Leaving the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men; ye make the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition;' said Jesus. Therefore the commandments which Israel followed were not those commandments of God by which a man keeps his own soul, enters into life. And the practical proof of this was, that Israel stood before the eyes of the world manifestly neither blessed nor at peace; yet these characters of bliss and peace the following of the real commandments of God was confessed to give. So a rule, or method, was wanted, by which to determine on what the keeping of the real commandments of God depended.
And Jesus gave one : ` The things that come from within a man's heart, they it is which defile him !'
We have seen what an immense matter conduct is ; that it is three-fourths of life. We have seen how plain and simple a matter it is, so far as knowledge is concerned. We have seen how, moreover, philosophers are for referring all conduct to one or other of man's two elementary instincts, —the instinct of self-preservation and the reproductive instinct. It is the suggestions of one or other of these instincts, philosophers say, which call forth all cases in which there is scope for exercising morality, or conduct. And this does, we saw, cover the facts well enough. For we can run up nearly all faults of conduct into two classes,—faults of temper and faults of sensuality ; to be referred, all of them, to one or other of these two instincts. Now, Jesus not only says that things coming from within a man's heart defile him, he adds expressly what these things that, coming from within a man, defile him, are. And what he enumerates are the following : 'Evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, stealings, greeds, viciousnesses, fraud, dissoluteness, envy, evil-speaking, pride, folly. These fall into two groups : one, of faults of self-assertion, graspingness and violence, all of which we may call faults of temper; and the other, of faults of sensuality. And the two groups, between them, do for practical purposes cover all the range of faults proceeding from these two sources, and therefore all the range of conduct. So the motions or impulses to faults of conduct were what Jesus said the real commandments of God are concerned with. And it was plain what such faults are; but, to make assurance more sure, he went farther and said what they are. But no outward observances were conduct, were that keeping of the commandments of God which was the keeping of a man's own soul and made him enter into life. To have the heart and thoughts in order as to certain matters, was conduct.
This was the method of Jesus : the setting up a great unceasing inward movement of attention and verification in matters which are three-fourths of human life, where to see true and to verify is not difficult, the difficult thing is to care and to attend. And the inducement to attend was because joy and peace, missed on every other line, were to be reached on this.