Christ's Teaching Concerning Divine Providence
IN passing from the pages of the prophets and of Job to the Gospels, we are conscious of a great change in the psychological climate. The change is all the more remarkable that it takes place in the same spiritual territory. In the words of Jesus there is the same intense faith in the moral order, the same passion for righteousness, the same faith in the blessedness of the righteous that we have become familiar with as the outstanding characteristics of the Hebrew seers. There is also the same conviction that the experience of the righteous man is by no means one of uniform happiness, which finds pungent expression in some burning utterances of the later prophets, and reaches white heat in the book of Job. But the prophetic ideals of righteousness and its rewards have undergone transformation. The querulousness of Jeremiah and the bitterness of the man of Uz have utterly disappeared. The storm is changed into a calm, and the accents of complaint have been replaced by a spirit of imperturbable serenity.
Our statement of Christ's doctrine of Providence may conveniently begin with an expansion of this brief comparison between His thoughts and the thoughts of those who in a very real sense were preparers of His way.
The prophetic ideal was a righteous nation enjoying prosperity; an ideal far from being realised in Israel in any present time known to any particular prophet; but which, when it did arrive, would be a veritable Kingdom of God: God's will done, and the doing of it rewarded with general well-being by the Divine Governor, the happy people having for its creed: The Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King; He will save us.1
When Jesus came, He too proclaimed a Divine Kingdom. The burden of His Galilean gospel was: The Kingdom of God is at hand.2
But the Kingdom of Hebrew prophecy and the Kingdom of the Evangel, while the same in name, were different in essential characteristics. The Messianic Kingdom of the prophets, especially of the earlier prophets, was national and political; the Kingdom whose advent was heralded by Jesus is spiritual and universal. The immediate subject of God's reign in this new Kingdom is the individual man, not a whole people, and the seat of dominion is the human heart. All may become citizens who possess the receptivity of faith, Gentiles as well as Jews, the worst not less than the best. The heart is the seat of the blessedness of this kingdom, as well as of its rule. The reward of righteousness is within, not, as of old, without. And because it is within it is certain, subject to none of the chances of all outward felicity. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall
not merely may be
. And none but they who hunger shall be filled. It cannot by any chance happen that the satisfactions proper to the righteous shall fall to the lot of the unrighteous. Wickedness is never rewarded, and righteousness is never punished. It is no reward to lose one's life; it is no punishment to save one's life.4
This programme of a moral order, spiritual and inward in its rewards not less than in its requirements, leaves room for any amount of troublous experience in the outward lot. The citizen of this kingdom may suffer, not only in spite but on account of citizenship. Blessed ones may be, on a secular estimate, miserable. The Beatitudes of the Teaching on the Hill are a series of paradoxes, which seem to say: Blessed are the unblessed. Speaking generally, the doctrine of Jesus concerning outward good and evil is startling. It may be summed up, in so far as it is peculiar, in three propositions: (1) that external good and evil are to a large extent common to men irrespective of character; (2) that there are sufferings which inevitably overtake all who devote themselves to the highest interests of human life; (3) that those who so suffer are not to be pitied, either by themselves or by others; that, on the contrary, they have good cause, as also capacity, for joy.
The classic text for the first of these positions is that in which it is taught that the Divine Father maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.5
A companion text, setting forth the dark aspect of the same general truth, may be found in the words: Suppose ye that these Galilæans were sinners above all the Galilæans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.6
These statements sound commonplace now, but they were by no means commonplaces, as coming from the mouth of a Jewish teacher nineteen centuries ago; they were rather startling novelties. To perceive the truth of this assertion in reference to the saying about the sun and the rain you have only to compare it with the text in Deuteronomy wherein the first rain and the latter rain necessary for a good harvest are guaranteed to those who keep God's commandments.7
The other saying concerning disasters which befell certain men of Galilee and Jerusalem is seen to be equally novel in tone when we remember how customary it was with prophets and sages of Israel, in ancient times, to regard signal calamities as the punishment of special sins. In the case of the men of Galilee and Jerusalem the calamities were signal enough, but, in opposition to popular opinion inherited from past ages, it is expressly denied that there was necessarily any corresponding speciality in sin. That is to say, it is denied that the disasters in question were of the nature of judgments on sin. It is implied, though not said, that they might have overtaken men remarkable for goodness rather than for wickedness, that among the men on whom the tower in Siloam fell might have been some of the best people in Jerusalem.
The two sayings just commented on do not signify that sunshine and shower, and disastrous casualties visiting good and evil alike, are entirely destitute of moral significance. On the lips of Jesus, they only meant that in such matters Divine Providence does not proceed according to the law of retributive justice. Though the justice of God is not apparent in them, some other attribute may be revealed. In the case of the saying concerning sun and rain, we are not left to guess what the attribute may be. In the universal and indiscriminate bestowal of these vitally important boons, Jesus read divine magnanimity. He saw in the fact proof that God is something more and higher than a Moral Governor, that to a very large extent He deals not with men after their sins, that the Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works. In the accidents named in the other saying Jesus saw not a judgment on the dead, but a warning to the living. He said to His hearers in effect: You have listened to these reports with superstitious awe, and have wondered what heinous crimes the miserable victims have been guilty of. Think not of them, but of yourselves. They may or may not have been sinners exceedingly, but there is no doubt how it stands with you, the men of this generation. You are in a bad way; a judgment day is coming on Israel for her sins, and if you will moralise on the recent events in Galilee and Jerusalem, I advise you to see in them emblems of approaching horrors on a larger scale, whose connection with sin is unquestionable.
The second thesis in Christ's doctrine of suffering is contained in the saying: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.8
The cross stands for the most ignominious and cruel form of penalty for crime, as inflicted by the Romans, and the general lesson is that the criminal's lot may overtake the devoted servants of the loftiest moral ideal; that notable suffering, exciting horror or pity in the beholder, may befall those who of all men least deserve it. Not only may
; it happens not by accident but by law; not necessarily, of course, literal crucifixion, or the maximum of possible suffering in every case, but acute, soul-wringing anguish, from which sensitive nature shrinks, in some form: loss of home, brethren, lands, love, reputation, life. This is the hard lot appointed to those who are the sons of God indeed, to those who let their light shine when the temptation is to hide it, to the moral pioneers of humanity, the path-finders, and their early disciples.
The third article in the doctrine of suffering as taught by Jesus, viz., that the sufferers for righteousness are not proper subjects of pity, is set forth in one of the Beatitudes in these glowing terms: Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.9
The blessedness of the persecuted is not, in Christ's view, merely prospective, a share in the future beatitude of heaven compensating for present trouble. It may be enjoyed now. It comes, in the first place, through an exceptional capacity for joy. Rejoice, says the Master to His disciples. The exhortation means: Give full play to the sunny, lighthearted temper with which you are favoured. For it is a fact that the spirit of the persecuted is irrepressibly buoyant. It knows nothing of habitual depression; it can mount up on wings like an eagle; it has the nimble feet of the hind; it can walk, and even leap, on rugged, rocky high places like the chamois.10
That is the hero's primary consolation for the hardships of his life. But there are other consolations. He knows, e.g.
that he is in good company. So persecuted they the prophets. It is a privilege to be associated with earth's noblest ones even in tribulation. The thought brings a sustaining sense of dignity not to be confounded with vainglory, which is but its caricature. Then, since the Christian era began, it has been an open secret that the persecuted suffer not in vain. They may have to die for the cause to which they are devoted, but their lives are not thrown away. The sacrifice has redemptive virtue. So Jesus taught in reference to His own case, thereby revealing through the supreme instance a universal law. Greatness, He said to disciples ambitious to be first, comes by service; service in its highest form means self-sacrifice; but a life laid down in such sacred ministry is not lost: it is a ransom for many.11
It is obvious that these new, inspiring thoughts of conduct and lot, and the cheerfulness with which they are uttered, presuppose a new idea of God
. There is a bright light on the morning landscape, which, when we turn our eyes to the east, is seen to mean that the sun has risen. The sun of Divine Fatherhood rose on the world when Jesus began to teach. God is no longer the mere Moral Governor rendering to every man according to his works, but a God of inexhaustible patience, not prone to mark iniquities, and reward accordingly, but removing transgression from men as far as east is from west.12
Grace reigns instead of retributive justice, which has not indeed become obsolete, but retires into the background as a partial truth absorbed into a larger whole. Benignancy
is the conspicuous attribute of Providence in the doctrine of Jesus. This will become apparent when we consider attentively the relative sayings.
Jesus taught that the Father in heaven exercises a beneficent Providence over all
His creatures: plants, birds, men, evil men as well as good men; and over all the interests of all men. He clothes the grass of the field with beauty,13
such as we see on a summer day in a meadow enamelled with buttercups and daisies. He feeds the fowls of the air.14
He cares both for the valueless sparrow devoid of beauty and of song, and for the propagators of a new, precious faith. A sparrow, struck dead it may be by a stone thrown by a schoolboy, falls not to the ground without His notice; and as for the apostle, the very hairs of his head are all numbered.15
But not he alone, the consecrated missionary of a religion destined to bless the world, is the object of providential care. The Divine Father regards all men as His children, and by means of sun and rain confers on them in every clime food and raimentall things needful for temporal well-being.16
Nor does He provide for their bodily life alone; He remembers that they are men made in His image, and that their spiritual nature needs food convenient. He does not overlook even the moral outcasts; them also He invites to the spiritual feast.17
He despises not the ignorant; He reveals the things of the Kingdom unto babes.18
He welcomes the return of the prodigal to the forsaken paternal home.19
The God of Jesus will have all men saved: yet there is room.20
He is the Father, not of the few but of the many, not of the privileged cultured class, but of the uncultured, unsanctified mass of mankind; and it is His desire that in even the most unpromising members of the human race all the moral possibilities of man's nature may be realised. Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.21
The spiritual welfare of man is, of course, in the view of Jesus, the most needful and worthy object of God's care. But it reveals the considerateness of His conception of Divine Goodness that He makes it embrace the lower interests of life. Outward good is not, in His view, beneath the notice of Providence. It is second; the Kingdom of heaven and its concerns are first and supreme; yet food and raiment have their place.22
Note here the soundness and sanity of Christ's doctrine, as compared with the onesided extravagance of ideal Stoicism, for which outward good was a matter of indifference. Jesus avoids the falsehood of extremes. He places the Kingdom first; but temporalities are not overlooked. These things shall be added.23
Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.24
They may be prayed for. Give us this day our daily bread.25
Thus the providence of the Father is very homely and kindly, and concerns itself about the humble wants of the ordinary man, not merely about the sublime aspirations of the wise man.
Christ's doctrine of Providence is thus, in the first place, eminently genial
. But it is also distinguished by reasonableness
, judged even by a modern scientific standard. Providence accomplishes its purposes through what we call the course of nature. The providential order and the natural order are not mutually exclusive spheres; they are the same thing under different aspects. Those thingsfood and raimentshall be added: how? Through the ordinary action of sun and rain, by whose beneficent influence breadstuffs are reared and the raw material, out of which cloth is manufactured, is produced. God does for all what no man by any amount of care could do for himself: adds, viz., a cubit (and more) to the stature of every one who has reached maturity.26
How does He accomplish that apparently impossible feat? By the slow, insensible, noiseless process of growth, whereby we pass unawares from the stature of infancy to that of manhood. That is the work of a beneficent Providence, in the view of Jesus. But it is not the miraculous product of immediate divine activity; it is throughout the effect of physiological law, and if you are so minded you can exclude Providence altogether and make it throughout an affair of vital mechanics. It is just the same in the higher region of the spirit. God gives the Kingdom, the first object of desire, to His servants, as He gives to them food and raiment, and increase of bodily stature. How? Again by the operation of natural law. So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.27
The coming of the Kingdom in the individual and in the community is a matter of growth, just like the coming of bread, gradual growth passing through well-marked stages, like the growth of grain under the influence of sun and showerfirst blade, then ear, then ripe corn. The whole process is so natural that one who thinks of divine action as occasional, transcendent, arresting, will be apt to inquire: Where is the hand of God, where is His spirit?
Christ's doctrine of Providence is manifestly of an optimistic character. His conception of God is optimistic. God is a Father, and His spirit is benign. His idea of the world is not less optimistic. The course of nature lends itself as a pliant instrument for the working out of the Divine Father's beneficent purposes.
But is this optimistic view of Providence not conradicted by facts? It seems to be, and Jesus was not ignorant of this; nor did He pass over in discreet silence whatever appeared irreconcilable with His sunny faith. The dark side of nature, indeed, He did not discourse on; but He boldly faced the discouraging phases of human experience. In our study on Job we had occasion to note a distinction made in the utterances of the afflicted man between the God of appearance and the God of reality. I now remark that Christ was fully alive to the necessity of making this distinction. He has made it with a vividness and impressiveness which leave the impassioned words of Job far behind. The parables of the Selfish Neighbour
and the Unjust Judge28
depict God as He appears in Providence to faith sorely tried by the delayed fulfilment of desires. The didactic drift of both is: Pray on, delay not withstanding; you shall ultimately prevail. In both, the power of persistence to obtain benefit sought is most felicitously illustrated. The man in bed can be compelled by shameless knocking to give what is asked, were it only to be rid of a disturbance which would be fatal to sleep. It is, of course, very rude, unmannerly, even indecent, to continue knocking in the circumstances. Any one would desist who had the smallest regard to propriety. But the man outside the door has no regard to propriety. He is desperate, and without compunction goes on using his power of annoyance till he gains his end,a supply of loaves to meet the emergency. Similarly in the case of the unjust judge. He neither fears God nor regards man, as he confesses with cynical frankness; but he has a very pronounced regard to his own comfort. He hates bother, and as the widow in her frantic determination to get justice seems likely to give him plenty of it, he decides the cause in her favour to get quit of her.
The relevancy of these parabolic narratives to the moral they are designed to point requires us to regard the two unlovable characters depicted as representing God as He appears in Providence to tried faith. In the weary time of delayed fulfilment He seems as unfriendly as the man in bed, as indifferent to right as the unprincipled judge. No more unfavourable view of the divine character could be suggested. But in the case of Jesus such dark thoughts of God have their source, not in personal doubt, as in the case of Job, but in acute sympathy with perplexed souls.
In both the parables, which have for their common aim to inculcate perseverance in prayer, the chief object of desire is supposed to be the interests of the divine kingdom. It is therefore important to notice that delay in the fulfilment of desire is regarded by Christ as a likely experience even in this region; Men have to wait even here. They cannot obtain moral benefit, spiritual good, for themselves or for others, off-hand. Jesus regards that as a certain fact, and He makes no complaint. It is God's way in the moral order of the world, and it is rightsuch is His fixed, unalterable conviction. Comparatively few thoroughly realise the fact; fewer still are completely reconciled to it as fitting and reasonable. Why, men are inclined to ask, should the kingdom of God not come per saltum
? Why should the realisation of the moral ideal in the individual, or in the race, be a matter of slow process during which hope deferred makes the heart sick? Could the process not be accelerated, or even resolved into an instantaneous consummation, by sufficiently earnest desire? Christ says, No: though you break your heart it will be a slow movement, a gradual growth from seed to fruit. Growth is the law of the natural world; it is also the law of the spiritual world. This great truth Jesus taught in the most explicit manner and with exquisite felicity in the parable of the Blade, the Ear, and the full Corn. No more significant statement of it is to be found in the Bible, or indeed anywhere else. By the utterance of this word Jesus showed himself more philosophic than some modern philosophers, who, while recognising the universal sway of the law of growth or evolution, maintain that process in the moral sphere is inadmissible on theistic principles. A God infinite in goodness and might must make the moral world perfect at once.29
From the parable just referred to, as well as from the two parables inculcating perseverance in prayer, it is clear that Christ felt no such difficulty. He accepted process as the law of the moral world, and He saw in it no reflection on divine goodness and power. The paternal love of God appeared to Him to be sufficiently vindicated by the result. Eventual fulfilment of aspiration supplied an adequate theodicy. The Father in heaven, whose character undergoes eclipse for weak faith during the period of waiting, is shown to be in reality worthy of His name if, after years in the case of the individual, or after centuries in the case of a community, spiritual desire be at length satisfied. If Jesus Christ had lived in our time, and had heard Mr. John Fiske bring his indictment against the theistic creed on the ground that the moral progress of society is a matter of slow secular growth, He would have administered to him the gentle rebuke: Man, where is thy faith?
The faith of Jesus in the benignity of Providence was absolute. While fully acknowledging all the facts on which the pessimist might construct his dismal creed of a non-moral or malignant Deity, He claimed for the Divine Father implicit trust. Take no thought for the morrow,30
He said to His disciples on the hill. The counsel implies cheerful confidence in the future, assurance that under the Providence of the Father all will go well. Not that the possibility of evil on the morrow is denied. It is recognised that each future day may have its own trouble.31
But the Master's advice to disciples is: Wait till it comes; do not anticipate evil. And He means, though He does not say, When the day comes its evil will be transmuted into good; the things that beforehand seem to be against you will, on their arrival, be found to be in your favour. Leave your times in God's hands.
Jesus lived His own philosophy; witness that sublime devotional utterance: I thank thee, O Father!32
For what does He give thanks? For the boon of a few illiterate disciples who lovingly follow Him while the scholars and religionists of Israel treat Him with disdain. Their unbelief is the evil of the day, and in view of it the prayer of Jesus looks like an act of resignation under defeat. But it is more than that. Jesus speaks, not under depression, but in buoyant hopefulness. In the adhesion of the babes He sees the promise and potency of a great future for His cause. Hence the note of triumph: All things have been delivered unto Me of My Father, which means, The future is Mine; the faith I preach shall become the faith of the world. Scornful Rabbis and haughty Pharisees will pass away, and these little ones will grow into a great community of men in every land who shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth. What spiritual insight is here! What power to estimate the relative force of contemporary currents of thought, to discern in the belief of babes a more potent factor than the unbelief of influential religious leaders, the representatives and strenuous upholders of a venerable but decadent tradition! What faith in the law of growth: calm conviction that the little one shall become a thousand, the small one a strong nation, the handful of corn scattered on the mountain top a mighty harvest waving in the wind of autumn! How impossible depression for one possessing such insight, such unlimited reliance on the action of moral laws, such sunny trust in the goodwill of the Father!
Such trust, habitually practised by Jesus under extreme difficulties, is possible for all, and worth cultivating. It banishes from the heart care and fear. Where it is, the diviner's occupation is gone. What chance is there for the fortune-teller with one who does not want to know what the future will bring? He does not want to know in detail, because he knows already in general that all will be well. The childlike trust in a paternal Providence inculcated by Christ is one of the forces by which the Christian religion is raising the world above Paganism. Paganism has three characteristics: (1) It cherishes low ideals; material good is its summum bonum
: after all these things do the Gentiles seek.33
(2) It is not a religion of trust: it is not sure that God cares for man. (3) It seeks after diviners to reveal a future which is dark, and whose uncertainty appeals at once to hope and to fear. Christ's teaching cuts the roots of all three defects. It lifts the heart up to higher things than food and raiment. It tells us that God is a Father who loves and cares for men as His children. It promises good, whatever betide, to those who live for the highest.
About the loftiness of Christ's ideal of life there will be no dispute. It may, however, be questioned whether it be not too high and one-sided, treating the Kingdom of heaven not merely as supreme, but as everything, and all elsethe world of nature, the present life, secular interests and callings, social well-beingas nothing. To this question it might be enough to reply that such a way of contemplating the universe is more Aryan than Semitic, more Indian than Hebrew. The Hebrew, as we see him in the Old Testament, took a firm hold of the present material world, and a very slight hold of the world to come. The life beyond, indeed, at least in the earlier period, seems to have had a very small place in his mind. But the lapse of time brought considerable modifications in Hebrew thought. Gentile ideas gradually obtained an entrance into the Jewish creed, and faith in immortality assumed an importance in the post-captivity period which it did not possess in ancient ages. This faith Jesus espoused and preached with emphasis, and it is not inconceivable that the dazzling light of the eternal world might extinguish for His eye the feeble starlight of time. But we have ample evidence that nature, time, sense, the transient and the temporal, counted for something in His esteem. In the first place, the physical world could not be a nullity for one who found in it, everywhere, God. That world, in the view of Jesus, was the habitation of Goda theatre in which God's power and beneficence were displayed. God does all that happens therein: clothes the lily with beauty, feeds the birds, sends sunshine and rain in their season, makes the child grow from the tiny dimensions of infancy to the full stature of manhood. Then all in nature that appeals to the senses was for Jesus a source of intense æsthetic enjoyment. Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.34
What a keen sense of the beautiful, in its simplest form, as seen even in the wayside wild-flowers, is revealed in that reflection! It could not have been uttered by any man of ascetic habit and morbid fanatical mood. A man of this type would not notice the charm of the lily, or the sweet song and graceful movement of the lark, or the music of a mountain stream. Even the sublimity of the thunder-storm, so eloquently depicted in the epilogue of the Sermon on the Mount, would scarcely succeed in arresting his attention. Descended the rain, came the floods, blew the windsit was not a weary-of-the-world hermit who drew that picture. The world of nature had a value for Jesus such as it has for a poet or a painter.
Human life also, with its ordinary occupations, had substantial meaning for the Galilæan Teacher. This appears from realistic descriptions of scenes from common every-day life contained in several of the parables, e.g. the housewife leavening the dough or searching for a lost coin, the shepherd going after the straying sheep, the farmer taking life leisurely between the seed-time and the harvest. It may be said, indeed, that these are simply incidental references in parabolic narratives wherein the natural is utilised to emblem the spiritual. But the point to be noted is that the spiritual use presupposes lively, sympathetic interest in the natural. The scenes introduced into the parables would not have occurred to the mind of one who had not a genuine love for the common ways and work of men, as these might be seen in and around Nazareth; still less would they have been so felicitously depicted. In His parabolic teaching Jesus is shown not merely as a sage, but as a man with a poet's eye, and with a kindly human heart. Impossible for Him to say: What boots all that daily toil from dawn to sunset? It is vanity and vexation of spirit; the Kingdom of heaven and the life beyond alone deserve a thought.
The healing ministry of Jesus has much significance as an indication of a rational interest in the physical well-being of man. This department of Christ's activity has been a battle-ground of naturalistic critics and supernaturalistic apologists, the former concerned to eliminate it from an otherwise attractive story, the latter bent on utilising it as a miraculous attestation of the evangelic doctrine. The relation of the healing acts to physical law has monopolised attention. It is time to turn away from that comparatively barren debate, and to consider more carefully the healing ministry as a revelation of the spirit of the worker
. When thought is concentrated on this topic, the curative phase of Christ's public life ceases to repel as a thaumaturgic display which one would gladly forget, and is seen to possess permanent didactic value. Duly to estimate that value we must begin by accepting the healing ministry as an emphatic reality. It is a simple fact that Jesus healed disease extensively, one might say systematically; a fact all the more remarkable that activity of that kind on a great scale was a new thing in the history of the religious teachers of Israel. The bare fact, altogether apart from the apparently preternatural character of some of the cures, is full of significance. Suppose there was nothing unusual in any of them, and that Jesus simply did what ordinary physicians were doing every day, still it would be worthy of remark that He too did such things. He, the herald of the Kingdom of God, the original, inspired Teacher of lofty, spiritual thought, did not disdain to play the physician's part. The human body was not beneath His notice. Physical health interested Him. He was the sworn foe of disease. He wanted all men to enjoy life while it lasted, to have the full use of their eyes and ears and hands and feet, to be sound and sane in body and in soul. The humanity of all this is, of course, apparent, but the thing to be specially noted in the present connection is the evidence supplied by the healing ministry that the healer was free from all morbid, one-sided spiritualism which despises the body and thinks it does not matter in what condition the earthly tabernacle may be during the short time the immortal soul occupies it as a tenant. This healer throws Himself into this humble part of His work with the enthusiasm which a less many-sided man would have reserved for the higher function of teaching. He regards this work as in accordance with God's will, nay, as God's own work. He claims to cast out devils by the finger of God.35
The cure of the maniac of Gadara is, through Him, an act of divine Providence. Whatever makes for health has the sanction and blessing of the Father in heaven. And the presumption is that the world that Father has made is amply stored with the means of health, that a remedy for every disease is hidden somewhere in nature, that the day will come when there will be no malady under which man suffers which medical skill will not know how to conquer. That Jesus cherished this hopeful creed is a fair inference from the well-attested fact that, as He went about from place to place, He never failed to lay a healing hand on the bodies of the sick.
Christ's doctrine of man supplies good ground for the faith that social well-being falls within the scope of Divine Providence. It does not teach or imply that social health is the chief end for God. That prerogative it assigns to the Kingdom of God, which in the first place means an order in which right relations are established between man and God. But the doctrine involves that social health will be a secondary result of the chief end being realised. Jesus taught generally that man as such, in virtue of his human attributes, is inherently superior to the beasts. Are ye not much better than they?36
than the birds. How much is a man better than a sheep?37
The fact is stated in the first case as justifying the assertion that man is an object of special care to God, in the second as supporting a claim on behalf of every man to benevolent treatment by his fellow-men. Jesus taught further, and more specifically, that man as such stands indefeasibly in the relation of a son to God. All men indiscriminately are God's sons, the only difference being that some by divine grace, and in virtue of their spirit and life, are worthy to be called sons, while others are not worthy of the honourable appellation. God treats all as sons, performing a father's part towards them according to the requirements of each case. Hence arise for all men certain obligations. The first and fundamental obligation is to realise the dignity
of man. It is the duty of all to respect themselves and to respect each other, as men. It is incumbent on every man to remember that he is by nature better than a beast, and to be in life superior to the lower animals. It is incumbent on every man to treat his fellow-men as better than a sheep or an ox, or a horse. The next duty arising out of Christ's doctrine of man is to cherish and give practical effect to the sense of a common brotherhood. Sons of God, therefore brethren. All sons of God, therefore all brethren, whether regenerate or unregenerate, religious or irreligious, Christian or heathen. Finally, there is the obligation to acquiesce in no cleavage between man and man as absolute and insurmountable. Chasms must be bridged, partition-walls broken down, common humanity asserted against all that divides and alienates. Wherever this obligation is virtually denied, the Christian faith, though formally confessed, is renounced in spirit.
Christ loyally worked out the logical implications of His own teaching. He treated the lowest and worst of men as still a man, and therefore a potential son of God. He despised no man; He despaired of no man. He maintained fraternal, comrade-like relations with men whom one might be strongly tempted to despise and despair of. He entered into friendly relations with classes which on political, moral, or religious grounds were shunned as social outcasts. If there was anything settled in current Jewish opinion, it was that a publican was to be treated as an unclean Pagan. Jesus dared to disregard this deep-rooted prejudice, and met and ate with publicans.38
By so doing He implicitly proclaimed a great principle, admitting of manifold applications; this, viz., that no class of men may, on any account, be allowed to fall into or remain in the position of persons having no claims on their fellow-men to human relationship, fair treatment, and friendly offices. The working out of this principle would of itself go a long way towards bringing social health to a community. When it is considered how many class distinctions still exist which are, or tend to become, inhuman, and how extensively the spirit of class interest and class pride still prevails, it will be seen that there is plenty of scope for the application of the principle. Its thorough-going application would not necessarily mean the abolition of distinctions. There might still be rich and poor, high-born and low-born; employers and employed. Distinctions essentially inhuman, or powerfully gravitating towards inhumanity and barbarism, the principle, taken in dead earnest, would sweep away. Hence the disappearance in European civilisation of slavery, which at length became intolerable to the Christian spirit. There are distinctions which cannot be abolished, e.g.
that based on colour. No amount of Christianity can make the skin of a black man white. But a Christianity worthy of the name ought to be able to humanise the relations between black men and white men. It is a hard problem for a community where the two races co-exist; but not harder than the problems with which the apostolic Church had to dealthose arising out of the distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, and between freemen and bondsmen, successfully solved by the union of both classes in one faith and fellowship.
Reviewing all that has been said on the range of providential action as conceived by Jesus, we find it to be very comprehensive. God's providence embraces all men and all human interests, and its aim is to make the life of man full of righteousness, peace, and pure hallowed joy. It is the enemy of all evil; of moral evil first, of physical evil in the second place. Its goal is the redemption of man from all evil.
But how is there evil at all in a world presided over by so beneficent a Being? Is He subject to some fatal limitation of power? Not so thought Jesus. He conceived of the Divine Father as Lord of heaven and earth, i.e.
of the whole universe. How evil came into the world He does not in any of His recorded words explain. He deals with evil as a fact. He sees it all around, in the heart and in the life, in the individual and in the community, among the religious not less than among the irreligious; and He makes it His business to fight it wherever He sees it. But He does not seem to have theorised about the origin of evil. In particular, there is no trace of theoretic dualism in the Gospels. There is indeed a malign being who flits like a ghost over the evangelic pages. He is mentioned a few times in later books of the Old Testament, and during the period between the close of the Hebrew Canon and the beginning of the Christian era he seems to have attained increasing definiteness of shape and width of function in popular Jewish theology. His name is Satan, alias
Beelzebub. He is represented as working mischief in two ways: killing souls by tempting to moral unfaithfulness,39
taking baleful possession of men's bodies in connection with diseases which present to the eye the appearance of subjection to a foreign powersuch as insanity, epilepsy, rheumatism.40
This conception appeals to the religious imagination, giving to evil the aspect of an awful mystery, and it makes it possible to think of man as a victim rather than as the sole or prime agent in sin. Some are of opinion that Satan was not more than a convenient pictorial thought for the mind of Jesus. That He used current ideas with a measure of freedom is evident from His identifying the Elijah that was expected to appear with John the Baptist. In any case, there is nothing to show that He regarded the idea as offering an adequate explanation of the evil that is in man and in the world. He did not assign to Satan the place of antigod, but only that of an adversary who can be controlled and subdued. As a tempter he can be foiled, not only by the Father in heaven, but by any son of man on earth who with pure, firm will says to him, Get thee behind me, Satan.41
As a tyrant, in person or by deputy, over men's bodies through disease, he can be cast out of his victims by the finger or spirit of God, as lightning is ejected from the clouds in a thunder-storm.42
Some forms of evil are ascribed directly to divine agency in the teaching of Christ; such, viz., as can be viewed as the penalty of moral transgression. To this category belonged the spiritual blindness of the Scribes. God sent it upon them as the punishment of their self-complacency and self-righteousness. Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent.43
To the same category belonged the fearful ruin which, a generation later, overtook the Jewish nation, the natural result of the judicial blindness of its religious leaders. That ruin also Jesus regarded as the work of the Father in heaven. What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.44
The impending judgment of Israel He foretold as certain and acquiesced in as right. It is at this point that Jesus comes into closest contact with the Hebrew prophets. They were largely prophets of judgment. He, too, was a prophet of judgment, though not principally or by preference. In the exercise of this function He was severe. But severity was tempered by tender pathos, as in the piteous lament, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!45
In that lament He protested that He had tried to save the holy city and the people it represented. It was no vain boast. Jesus had not only tried to save Israel, but He would have succeeded had that infatuated people laid to heart His words. He had sought to save His countrymen by exposing the delusions and vices of their religious guides, and by emancipating their minds from the idolatry of legal tradition and from the spell of a spurious Messianic hope. If they had listened to Him, they would have been saved. If they had accepted Him as their Messiah, instead of clinging to the vain expectation of a Christ who would restore Israel to political independence, they would have become a regenerate people at peace with God and safe under the yoke of Rome. But they would not. They rejected and crucified the true Christ, cherished their fond Messianic dream, fought for it with the obstinacy which only religious fanaticism can inspire, and perished in the unequal struggle. What a tragedy it was we know from contemporary historians. With the clear eye of a prophet Jesus foresaw it all, not without tears, but without rebellion against the will of Providence. In the judgment of Israel He saw the righteous moral order of the world asserting itself. He bowed His head, and said in effect: Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.
We thus see that Christ's doctrine of Divine Providence had its stern side. It was not an insipid optimism. It could look awful facts in the face. It presented to faith a genial, winsome idea of God as Father, in which grace or benignity had the dominant place. But retributive justice is not excluded or slurred over. The Father will have all men saved, and spares no pains to bring sinners to repentance; but they who being often reproved harden their neck must at last be destroyed. So it is in the world of fact, so it is also in Christ's world of theory. He does not impose on facts a theoretic conception with which they cannot be made to square. He simply reads the world with enlightened eyes, and frames His idea of God to correspond. He finds in the world national catastrophes like that of Israel, and He recognises these as the work of God acting as Ruler through the eternal laws of the moral order. But this dark aspect of Providence does not blind His mind to the paternal benignancy of God which He makes it His main business to proclaim. A benign God is His gospel. The Lord God is for Him not mainly a Storm-God, but above all a sun and a shield. Jesus preferred to think so of God. He believed also that the facts of history justified Him in so thinking.
The methods by which Providence works out its beneficent designselection, solidarity, and sacrifice46
find distinct, if not copious, recognition in the teaching of Jesus. He was conscious of being Himself an Elect Man, one charged with a mission, sent unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He acted on the principle of election in the execution of His own plans. He ordained twelve that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach.47
He explained by apt emblems the nature or aim of election, as a destination, not to exceptional privilege, but to a beneficent function for the benefit of others. Ye are the salt of the earth, ye are the light of the world,48
He said to chosen disciples. He acknowledged the principle of solidarity
when He gave to these disciples the direction, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works. This rule may be violated in two ways: by hiding the light in fear of trouble, or by removing it too far away from the eye of the beholder. The former is the mistake chiefly in view, but both may be held to be covered by the prescription of the Master. He would have His disciples, in the performance of their duty as the propagators of a new religion, show respect for the law of solidarity in a twofold form: first, by not shrinking from the personal discomfort resulting from the conservative reaction of the social mass against new ideas; second, by taking care to present their message in a form at once luminous, sympathetic, and self-commending. Thought is to be uttered, not buried in the breast, and it is to be uttered, not to show how far the thinker is in advance of his time, but that it may find lodgment in other minds. The parable of the leaven is another tribute to the law of solidarity. The leaven is placed in the mass of dough that it may leaven the whole lump. Finally, the law of sacrifice is conspicuously recognised as a condition of moral power. It is he who lays down his life as a ransom that becomes the great one. How death in the form of self-sacrifice may issue in multiplied life is felicitously illustrated by a saying recorded in the Fourth Gospel, in which Jesus likened Himself, as about to suffer on the cross, to a corn of wheat falling into the ground and through death bringing forth much fruit. The analogy does not explain how self-sacrifice becomes spiritually fruitful, but it shows that it may
an important service when the truth taught appears an incredible paradox.
Christ's doctrine of Providence is acceptable in every point of view. It satisfies the demands alike of heart, conscience, and reason. It satisfies the heart by offering to faith a God whose nature is paternal, and whose providential action has for its supreme characteristic benignancy. It satisfies the conscience by ignoring no dark facts in the world's history; by looking moral evil straight in the face; and by recognising frankly the punitive action of the moral order. It satisfies the reason by avoiding abstract antitheses between providential action and natural law, by viewing that action as immanent and constant rather than transcendent and occasionalpervading the course of nature and working through it, rather than interrupting it by supernatural incursions. Its rationality is further revealed by its unreserved acceptance, of growth, progress, as the law of the spiritual, not less than of the natural, world. In this respect modern evolutionary philosophy, far from superseding the teaching of Christ, only tends to illustrate its wisdom, and helps us to a better understanding of its meaning.