You are here

Lecture Fifth. The Distinctive Characteristics of Christianity as Contrasted with Judaism.

Christianity as the Realisation of the Idea of Religion — The Negative Character of Judaism and the Positive Character of Christianity as regards: (1) The Relation of God to Nature; (2) The Relation of God to Man, especially an manifesting itself in the Social life of Man; (3) The Nature of the Service of God by Man — Different Aspects of Christianity as presented in the New Testament — Jesus and St. Paul — General Characteristics of the Life and Words of Jesus.

IN the last lecture I pointed out that the religion of Christ arises in relation to a state of religious thought in which the opposition between the real and the ideal had been stretched almost to the point of dualism; in which, indeed, heaven and earth were set against each other, and the latter was regarded as, at least for a time, abandoned to the power of evil. Beelzebub was ‘the prince of this world,’ and the ills of soul and body which afflict humanity were the marks of his hold upon it. Hence the anticipation of the future triumph of good on earth could take only what we may call an apocalyptic form. The expected and prophesied deliverance could only be one in which, by a miraculous act of omnipotence, the whole system of things on earth should be changed, and the powers of this world suddenly subdued under the feet, of a Messiah sent out from God. Jesus had at once to disappoint and to fulfil such prophecies. He had to substitute faith in a present for the hope of a future deliverance, to teach men to see God already working within and without them, and so to take away the need for an external sign in the clouds of heaven, such as the Jews expected and demanded from him. He had to conquer evil, and teach that it was to be conquered, not by might, nor by power, but by the spiritual weapons of love, insight, and self-sacrifice. And, while he recognised to the full all the evils which had led to the pessimistic view of life which prevailed in his time, he had yet to discover and reveal a principle of good which was working beneath these evils in order to overcome them. He had, in short, to penetrate to “the soul of goodness in things evil,” and so to draw his faith in good from a spring deeper than the lowest sources of despair. He had to receive the full shock of suffering and sin, and to plant the hopes of humanity where they should not be overthrown by either.

Now, if we ask what is the ultimate basis of this solution of the religious difficulty—of this optimism drawn as it were from the very depths of pessimism—which is characteristic of Christianity, the answer is, that in Christianity religion has risen to its own true form: it, at last, is the consciousness of that spiritual principle which manifests itself in both subject and object alike, and which realises its unity with itself through all their difference. God is now conceived not, as in all objective religions, as a merely natural power, or as the unity of all natural powers: nor again is He conceived, as in subjective religion, as a spiritual Being outside of nature and dominating over it. He is conceived as manifesting Himself alike in the whole process of nature and in the process of spirit as it rises above nature. In other words, God is to Christianity a Spirit, as in subjective religion; but He does not exclude nature, nor is He external to it, except in the sense that He is not limited to it. He is immanent in nature, as in objective religion, but He also transcends it, and makes it a means to the higher life of spirit. That this is actually the main purport and tendency of the Christian religion will become clear if we consider (1) how Christianity arises out of the highest subjective religion of the Jews; (2) how this process of development reaches its culmination and its turning point in Jesus; and (3) how starting from the life and words of Jesus, it makes the beginning of a new development that has been advancing ever since.

On the first of these points a good deal has been already said. The development of Judaism gradually freed the idea of God from the national limitations which had been attached to it in the early history of Israel. Thus, it tended to banish not only the conception of a natural relationship between the God and His worshippers—a conception common to all objective religions, but which had already disappeared even in our earliest records of Hebrew religion—but also the conception, still present in the Old Testament scriptures, of the mere arbitrary choice of one nation to a privilege from which the others are excluded. And, pari passu with this universalising of the idea of God, there went also a growing consciousness of the moral character of the service due to him. The God of the whole earth, who was the universal source of justice among men, could not be propitiated by a cultus of external ceremony, but only by clean hands and a pure heart; and His service could not be separated from the service of man. Thus the prophetic message came to be one in which the universal was throughout opposed to the particular; the God of the universe to a merely national divinity; the claim to divine protection based on justice and mercy, to a claim based on membership in a particular nation and observance of its national customs; and finally, the service of the heart to the outward service of ritual and sacrifice. Thus, by a process which was closely analogous to the development of the Stoical philosophy in Greece, the religion of the prophets tended to become at once universal and individual, free from national limits or peculiarities, and centred in the inner life of the subject.

But, while this is true, it is to be observed that the emancipation thus won from the national, the particular, and the external, was still expressed negatively, and was, therefore, embarrassed by its relation to that which was opposed or denied. Not the nation but mankind, not ritual but morality, not the letter but the spirit, is the universal message of prophecy. But the new principle does not reveal itself except in opposition; that is, in relation to that to which it is opposed. And we may even say that the things protested against by the Jewish religion are necessary to it, since it is only in denying and protesting against them that that religion reaches a higher point of view. Hence, the same nation whose sacred books proclaim that it exists ultimately for the blessing of the whole earth, remained actually shut up in an exclusive and bitter national pride, which caused it to be suspected of odium humani generis. The same people, from whose prophets had proceeded the fiercest denunciations of a mere outward ritual, and the strongest assertions that the God of righteousness despises all priestly rites, and cares for nothing but purity of heart, develops in the later stage of its history a legalism and formalism which entangle all life in a network of meaningless prescriptions. The antithesis of the law and the prophets, of the priestly sacrifices of the blood of bulls and goats and the true sacrifice of a broken and contrite spirit, runs through the whole history of the Jewish nationality from beginning to end. And, strange to say, the two opposites seem to be essentially bound together; so that, to use the words of St Paul in a slightly different sense, it is only ‘through the law’ that the Jew ‘becomes dead to the law.’ The law must exist as his starting point, and it is in opposition to it and yet by means of it, that he rises to a spiritual religion. The Pharisaic legalism keeps the peculiar people of God separate from the world, and serves as a protective husk, within which the treasure of spiritual religion is preserved till the fulness of the times is come.

It appears, then, that what we have in the history of Israel is a perpetual struggle of the subjective against the objective type of religion. It is a struggle which cannot end in a complete victory, because it is impossible that the subject should be torn away from the object without ceasing to exist; yet it is a struggle which must necessarily continue so long as no way has been discovered of exalting the spiritual except at the expense of the natural. Hence, each of the distinctive ideas of Israel—the idea of the spirituality of God, the idea of His universal relation to men, and the idea of His service as consisting in the practice of justice and mercy—is developed by means of a contrast, against the idea of God as a natural power or powers, against the idea of His relation to man as mediated by a covenant with a special race, and against the idea of His service as consisting in the observance of a special ritual and law. In short, the value of this religion lay in its process, and not in the end to which that process seemed to point; in the struggle of the principle of subjective with the principle of objective religion, and not in the victory of the former over the latter—a victory which would have been fatal to subjective religion itself. For every one of these principles is only a partial truth. The assertion of the spirituality of God is true, as a protest against nature-worship; or, in other words, against the subordination of the spirit to, or its identification with, nature; but it is false, if taken as a denial of the immanence of God in nature. The assertion of God's universal relation to all men and to all nations is true, as against the conception of Him as the head, whether by natural relationship or by arbitrary choice, of a particular race; but it is false if it be taken as involving that He is a God who does not manifest Himself in the concrete social life of humanity, or bind men together as the members of one society. The assertion that the only divine service is the inner worship of the heart, is true as against the substitution of outward ritual and observance for morality; but it is false, if it be taken as equivalent to a denial that the world and our fellowmen mediate between us and God, or that a spiritual religion needs to express itself in any outward form.

Now, in all these points, Christianity may be said to fulfil, or carry to its highest realisation, the principle of Judaism, rather than to destroy it; yet, in a sense, in fulfilling it, it necessarily destroys it. For it does away with the absoluteness of that antithesis between the spiritual and the natural, the subjective and the objective, on which the purity and elevation of the religion of Israel was based. Or, rather, we might express it by saying that Christianity carries out the subjective movement of Jewish religion to the extreme point, and overcomes the onesided subjectivity of that religion just by doing so. Thus the spirituality of God is no longer conceived negatively as separating Him from the things He has made, but positively as revealing itself in the life of nature, while making it the basis of the higher life of man. God, indeed, is no longer supposed to be specially manifested in any one natural object, nor even in the natural world as a whole if the natural be severed from the spiritual. But it is essential to the new point of view that the natural should not be severed from the spiritual, but rather that the Divine Spirit should be regarded as revealing itself in the upward process of nature to humanity, as well as in the farther process whereby human life rises toward the attainment of its highest ideal. Jesus, therefore, “views the external world with free and friendly eyes,”1 and in his parables he uses it as a rich storehouse from which symbols might be drawn to express the relations of the spiritual life. Nay, he even finds “spiritual law in the natural world.” He treats what has been usually regarded as the impartial indifference of nature as the manifestation of the all-embracing love of a God, who “sendeth His rain upon the just and the unjust” alike; and he takes the death and revival of the ‘corn of wheat’ as the expression of the great moral law of self-realisation though self-sacrifice. We may, therefore, fairly say that Jesus altogether sets aside the old Jewish conception of the outward world as an external instrument called into existence to fulfil the divine designs, and regards the natural as in perfect continuity with the spiritual life. St. Paul merely gives us the rationale of this way of thinking, when he declares that nature is but a stage in the process of the divine self-revelation—a stage which, indeed, is in itself imperfect and finite, but which points forward to the higher life of man as its complement and completion. “The earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God,” for the fuller revelation of the divine in man. Hence, nature cannot come to its rights, cannot show its highest meaning, until, in the life of man it becomes the servant of a higher design. “The creation is made subject to transitoriness, not by its own fault, but by reason of him who has subjected it,” i.e. by reason of the imperfection and the fall of man; but it also, in the apostle's view, is ultimately to share “in the freedom of the glory of the sons of God.” “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in sympathy with us until now.” Nature waits for the revelation of spirit in man, and man also waits and longs for a fuller revelation of the spiritual principle in himself. “And not only the creation, but we also who already possess the first-fruits of the spirit, even we ourselves groan within our selves, waiting to be put in full possession of our rights as sons of God, by the redemption of the body,” i.e. waiting and longing for that full manifestation of the new principle, which shall not merely transform the inward disposition of our souls, but also reconstitute our outward physical life in harmony therewith, substituting a spiritual for a natural body.2 In this way St. Paul is urged by the reconciling principle of Christianity to bring nature and man together. And he represents their whole existence as connected in one process, which has revealed in the past, is revealing in the present, and will reveal still more in the future, the one spiritual life which flows out from God to the creation, and which flows back to Him again through man—the highest of all the creatures. Thus St. Paul combines the idea of the spirituality of God, which was characteristic of monotheism, with the idea of the immanence of God, which was characteristic of pantheism, uniting both in one conception by the aid of the idea of evolution.

Again, while Jewish prophecy asserted, or, at least, suggested the universality of God's relation to men, it asserted it only, or mainly, in connexion with the idea of a demand of God for an inward self-surrender of the individual to the divine law, and in opposition to the racial privilege of the sons of Abraham. Israel was not to claim salvation as its birth-right, but only in virtue of its obedience to the divine law of righteousness and charity, and, therefore, only on a spiritual ground which could, and must, be extended to all men. But this truth, while it carried those who admitted it beyond the national point of view, was nevertheless always apprehended in relation to it; and, therefore, it never got farther than the prophecy, that through Israel ‘all nations of the earth should be blessed.’ In this respect it was Christianity that first fairly cut asunder the connexion of the spiritual principle with its natural root, and definitely asserted that, because the relation of God to man was spiritual, it was an equal relation to all men. It was the necessary consequence of this that social life should be reconstituted in a higher form on the basis of religion. Christianity, indeed, inherited from Judaism that opposition of Church and State, which had been the result of the political overthrow of Judah, and of the subject state of the Jews ever after their return from exile. And the early growth of the Christian Church as a separate society within the Roman empire, even exaggerated the opposition between the spiritual and the secular powers. But while the later Jewish religion by its exaltation of the subjective as against the objective, distinctly tended to originate and confirm this division, Christianity was in principle hostile to such a practical dualism, and must, in the long run, overcome it. Its last word could not be the denial of the bond of nationality as a sufficient ethical expression of the religious principle. It inevitably had to advance to the positive assertion, that the unity of man with God finds its adequate manifestation only in a unity of all men with each other,—a unity to which both individual and national differences are subordinated. When St. Paul drew the picture of an organic society, in which all diversities of gifts should be subservient to one spiritual life, he was not showing what the Church might be as apart from the State. Rather he was showing that Christianity is wide enough to overcome all the divisions of the outward life of mankind, whether natural or spiritual, and to bind them together as members of one great community. The idea of an organic unity of humanity, which should be manifested not only in an abstract cosmopolitanism, but in the concrete reality of an actual community both of the inward and the outward life—i.e. the idea of a future World-State—was from the first closely bound up with the Christian religion, though in earlier times it took on the aspect of an immediate Messianic hope, and in the Middle Ages it was obscured by the increasing dualistic tendencies of the times. But this point must be reserved for fuller discussion in another lecture.

The last point of difference of the Christian from the Jewish religion lies in its reconciliation of religion with morality; or, in other words, in its identification of the cultus in which religion expresses itself, with the service of man. Such an identification had no doubt been suggested by the prophets, who declared that the true fast was not the outward humiliation of sackcloth and ashes, but “to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free”; and said that the true sacrifice was not the outward offering of bullocks on the altar, but the willing and joyful submission of the soul to the divine law of love. But, as we have seen, this ‘not’ of the prophets translated itself in practice into a “not merely,” and it was therefore powerless to create a new order of social life, though it might do something to put a new spirit into the old order. The temple service might be despised, or regarded as insufficient, but it still furnished the basis from which the Jew's aspirations after something higher had to start, and to which they always returned. But Christianity absolutely rejected all mechanical observance of external rules detached from the spirit of life. Ritual ceased to be the service of God, so soon as that service was separated from the idea of obedience to a law externally given, and was conceived as the necessary outward expression of a divine principle which united men to each other as members of divine-human society. In other words, the true service of God lay henceforth in those works of mercy and justice which were needful to make human society into a manifestation of divine love.

To put the same thought in a slightly different way. For the Jew, the only deliverance from the externality of ritual lay in the subjective spirit of piety, which lifted the individual in his inner life above the outward service of the temple. And this, no doubt, led to a comparatively higher estimate of the moral as contrasted with the ceremonial elements of the law. But these two elements could not be distinctly separated from each other, so long as that which is universal was mingled and confused with that which is national. Short of this, there might be a certain infusion of the new spirit into the old forms of life; but it was not strong enough to destroy these forms and to construct others more adequate to itself. Rather, it caused the pious soul to draw back upon itself, and to seek satisfaction for its spiritual needs in an inner worship of God which had no outward expression whatever. But, with Christianity came the idea that this inner ideal is outwardly realisable; that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and capable of being set up on earth; nay, that it is already so set up. For, although no particular state or its institutions could furnish an adequate sphere for the expression of the spiritual principle, yet it was not condemned to remain, hid within the soul. It could now manifest itself in an ‘enthusiasm of humanity,’ in an effort after the reconstitution of the social life of mankind on the basis of their essential unity with each other and with God. In this way the recoil of the later religion of the Jews from the State, and even from the Church which they had set in its place, was carried to the point at which it broke off all connexion with both,—at least in the limited national form they had hitherto taken. But, at the same time, the connexion of the inner life with the outer, of religion with the social service of man, was re-established on a new basis. Just as the Stoic, isolating himself from all the life of the family and State, found in the isolated self upon which he withdrew the principle of a cosmopolitan society, and thus rose to a new positive conception of the relations of men to men, which could take the place of the old relations of kinsmen or fellow citizens; so it was here. The subjective tendency, which carried the prophets and psalmists of Israel beyond the morality of national patriotism, and beyond the ecclesiastical legalism which arose after the exile, could attain complete freedom from these limits only when it changed into a consciousness of the solidarity of all men as spiritual beings, who are essentially related to each other through their common relation to one Father in heaven.

What has been said may be sufficient to indicate the way in which the Jewish spirit of subjective piety reached its culmination in Christianity, and, just because it did so, rose altogether above a merely subjective type of religion. We have thus seen that Christianity was at once an end and a new beginning—the end of the religion of subjectivity, the beginning of what par excellence we may call the religion of spirit. But, so far, we have spoken of Christianity in general, without special reference to its founder, and especially without asking how much was directly due to that founder, and how much was developed out of his words and deeds by St. Paul or other of his immediate or remote successors. Nor is it within the limits of our subject to enter minutely into such questions, except so far as is required to illustrate the development of religious thought. At the same time, even for this purpose, it is necessary to say a few words of the germinal idea of Christianity as expressed in the life and words of Jesus; in order to show that the subsequent development is a legitimate one, and that what now appears in it is really to be found in germ there.

Now, it is not to be concealed that there are many differences in the aspects of truth presented to us within the New Testament: e.g. between the apocalyptic anticipations of the Revelations and the idealistic spiritualism of the Gospel of St. John; or, again, between the direct aphoristic utterances of Jesus as they are presented to us in the Synoptic Gospels, and the theorising and generalising spirit of the epistles of St. Paul, who is not content till he has reached a philosophy of history, and set Christianity in its due place in the progress of humanity both in relation to Judaism, and also, in some measure, to other religious systems. In relation to the latter of these differences the doubt has sometimes been expressed, on the one hand, whether St. Paul did not make more out of the simple moral teaching of the Gospels than was really to be found in it; and, on the other hand, whether he did not corrupt by theory the pure and practical spirit of Christ's teaching, and confine the fresh current of the new inspiring idea within the narrower channels of a metaphysical system of theology. These opposite views have not seldom been advocated in the writings of those who have most freely criticised the “Origins” of Christianity. Thus, Comte in France and Von Hartmann in Germany speak of St. Paul as the real founder of Christianity; while, on the other side, Renan and many others have maintained that, if St. Paul made Christianity more powerful for a time by turning it into a dogmatic system, he at the same time sophisticated and even perverted the simplicity of its primary principles, and obscured their essential truth by entangling them in the forms of a philosophy which only represented a passing phase of human thought. In such a controversy, men will be disposed to take sides according to their native tendency to theorise life, or to dislike theorising it; and plausible grounds cannot be wanting to support either view. For, in one sense, theory is always less than life, while in another it is more than life. By generalising, we liberate the truth from the accidents of its temporary embodiment; we universalise what at first was particular, and thus we make it capable of entering into new combinations and influencing those whom in its first expression it could not have reached at all. On the other hand, while theory thus universalises and liberates the truth, it is also liable in some degree to deprive it of that vivid local colour, that close relation to life, that fresh actuality and fertility of suggestion, which belongs to the intuitive utterances of immediate experience. Abstractions have their narrowness as well as perceptions; and, in their hard antitheses, they are apt at once to simplify and to impoverish the complex relations of life. Hence, if there is a danger that great principles should remain hidden and ineffective, or that, after having emerged for a time as the concrete lessons of life, they should again pass out of sight and be lost, unless they are fixed once for all in the clearness and definiteness of abstract thought; there is undoubtedly also a danger that by being torn from the soil in which they first sprung up, they may lose their living and life-giving power. In this way, a dead and barren system of doctrine may take the place of the religious life it would explain; a creed grasped by the understanding may substitute itself for that inspiring faith, which is the identification of the very self of him who holds a truth with the truth he holds. The truest theory is apt to become a mere word, an empty abstraction, to him who does not see it in its connexion with, its emergence out of, the facts it interprets; who does not take it, so to speak, as a stage in the way from a narrower to a wider life. Yet, on the other hand, a fact or even an intuition, that is not idealised by imagination and generalised by reflexion, must remain, or soon become, barren and unfruitful.

Looking at it in this way, we can see beyond the prejudices of individuals for or against speculative reflexion; we can recognise the important position of such reflexion as a factor in the process of development, without attributing to it a creative function that does not belong to it. Thus it is easy to see that the clearness with which St. Paul realised the central lesson of the cross, the force and we might even say the violence of abstraction with which he tore it away from its Jewish setting, and expressed it in its universal meaning, were necessary to prevent Christianity from sinking into a Jewish sect, such as it actually became for a time in the Church of Jerusalem. But, on the other hand, what would have become of the healing virtue of Christianity, what of its power upon the general heart of man, without the subtle personal charm of the forgiveness of Jesus and his invasive charity for all the ills that afflict the flesh or the spirit of man; without the direct appeal of his words of comfort to the fallen, his denunciation of the oppressor, his proclamation of peace out of the depths of human sorrow, and his prophecy of good in the face of the most violent outburst of evil? What would have been the result if, in place of all this, we had only St. Paul's inspiring but abstract description of the conflict of law and grace; or his idealisation of Jesus, as the Christ who came from God to endure the sufferings of death and to conquer death for man? When we ask this question we are forced to recognise that such an abstract theory of Christianity, without the living image of Jesus, would soon have lost all its force and meaning. It is in fact just as the first theoretical or reflective explanation of the life of Jesus that the Pauline doctrine has its value for us; and, important as it is, it must be recognised that the explanation has its weak side, and that it is far from finally exhausting the meaning of the facts which it seeks to explain. Those who maintain that St. Paul in some degree obscured the lesson of the Gospel—even while he universalised it, and so carried it beyond the limitations of its earliest form—have undoubtedly much to say for themselves, if only they are ready to admit that such a partial obscuration of the completeness of the original truth was necessary to its development. The germ is in a sense more complete, contains implicitly a fuller life than any of the dividing shoots and branches that spring from it, or indeed than all of them put together; but the differentiation shown in them is a necessary stage of growth, through which the seed must pass if it is ever to return to itself in the multiplied life of the fruit. If we might venture to paraphrase the passage in the Gospel, in which Jesus compares himself to John the Baptist, we should express it thus: Jesus Christ came uttering the pregnant words of wisdom in the closest union of thought and life, and they say, he is merely a pious Jew of more than usual purity and depth of character: Paul came idealising and generalising the facts of Christ's life and death, and they say, he is only a philosopher who reduces life to a theory, if not a sophist who disguises it in high sounding abstractions. But “wisdom is justified of her children.” Action and thought, intuition and reflexion, are not enemies, though they are often opposed. They are both the necessary stages in the development of one spiritual life; and that life needs them both for its advance to a fuller consciousness of itself and of the divine unity which is at once its source and its goal.

Now, if for the moment we confine ourselves entirely to the Synoptic Gospels, and if, neglecting all minor differences of spirit between them, we try to catch the general lineaments of the personality they depict, what is the distinctive peculiarity, the main note of individuality, the characteristic attitude of thought and will that is there set before us? Setting aside for the time all special theological ideas, all conceptions that would lift the founder of Christianity above the ordinary conditions of human life, we may fairly ask: What is the general impression he makes upon us, as seen through the varied lights and shadows of these three narratives? what is the general spirit and purport of the teaching they ascribed to him. I have already indicated that it seems to me to be a confidence in God—as manifested in nature and in man—which is so firm and powerful that it faces the utmost manifestation of evil with a certitude of victory. Nor is this certitude the result of anything like what we usually call religious enthusiasm. To no one could we more truly apply the text that the “spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets”; that, in other words, the divine utterance comes forth without disturbing the balance of the humanity through which it comes. In this respect there is a marked difference between Jesus and St. Paul. In the writings of St. Paul, as in those of the old prophets of Israel, the stream of inspiration pours itself forth with a convulsive energy of speech, which shows that he is possessed by his thought rather than possesses it; and he seems almost to lose sight of the ordinary struggle of man with the conditions of mortality, in his vision of a world-conflict between the powers of good and the powers of evil, the ‘principalities and powers’ of the spiritual world. With this we have to contrast that simple realisation of the facts of life and death, of the sorrow and the sin of man, which is as characteristic of the Jesus of the Gospels as the steadfast certainty that looks beyond both to an all-encompassing power of good. If we can trace any progress in the teaching of Jesus as it is recorded in the Synoptic Gospels, it is only that, with the increasing pressure of the conflict, and the growing consciousness of the evil with which he has to contend, there comes a deepening sense of the necessity of such conflict with evil, and of all the suffering it brings with it, to the highest triumph of good. This is nowhere more clearly expressed than in the passage in which, as we gather from the context, Jesus first admitted to his disciples that he was—though not in the sense they supposed—Messiah, the Prophet who was to end prophecy and fulfil the prophetic hopes of Israel. For he has no sooner made this admission than he immediately begins to teach them that it is not through outward triumph, but through suffering and death, that the true Christ and his followers can work out deliverance for mankind; and that he who would save his life and the life of others must begin by losing it.3 We may, therefore, say that the basis of the thought of Jesus is the consciousness that good is omnipotent: that what the soul of man recognises as the highest ideal is at the same time the deepest reality of the world; and that man is not merely the creature but the son of God. This Sonship Jesus, as the Messiah, claims for himself that he may claim it for man. And on this basis he immediately proceeds to correct the Jewish idea of Messiahship, by purging it of the ingredient of outward conquest and sovereignty, by denying that the true evidences of it are miraculous signs from heaven; and also to point out the true conditions of the triumph of good in the world, as a power whose first outward manifestation is not in strength but in weakness, not in, success but in sacrifice and death. It is because of these two things: his unshaken faith in the omnipotence of good, and his clear comprehension of the conditions through which it shows its power in this world—not overpowering evil, so to speak, by main force, but disarming it by enduring its utmost hostility—that the life and words of Jesus have had such power over the spiritual life of man. Hence, however otherwise we may conceive it, this life must remain to us the typical expression of religious feeling; for it brings the consciousness of finitude into a perfect unity with the consciousness of the infinite, and reconciles the monotheistic ideas of the evil that is in the world and of the transcendence of God, with the pantheistic idea of the immanence of God both in man and in nature. Jesus Christ, we may say, first discovered man's true relation to God and lived in it. From no other life, even in the imperfect records of it that have come to us, do we get the same impression of reconciliation with self and God, of conscious union with a divine Spirit, manifesting itself immediately in self-conquest and devotion to the service of humanity. No other religious teacher has kept the self-sacrifice he demanded so clear of a false asceticism. No one, living as he did, ‘under the power of the world to come,’ has been so free from superstition, or has taught the irresistible and sometimes dangerous current of religious emotion to flow so exclusively in the channel of charity and justice. So long as the conscience of man retains its power, it must acknowledge,—though it may be with greatly changed forms of doctrinal interpretation,—that the divine and the human were brought together in one, whose consciousness of unity with God so directly passed into a consciousness of unity with man.

  • 1. Bosanquet, History of Aesthetic, 128.
  • 2. Rom. viii. 19-23; 1 Cor. xv. 44 seq.
  • 3. Matt. xvi. 17, 21, 25; Mark viii. 29, 31, 34; Luke ix. 20, 22, 23.