The Difficulty in which Subjective Religion ends — The Practical Idealism of Jesus — In what Sense Jesus was Original — Antithetic Form of His Teaching — How the Belief in a Special Power of Evil arises in Later Judaism — The Doctrine of John the Baptist and its Relation to the Teaching of Jesus — The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth — How Jesus solves the Problem of Evil — His Optimism on the Basis of Pessimism — Note on the Belief in Evil Spirits.
IN the last lecture I spoke of the double necessity, in a religion which should avoid the defects of subjective and of objective religion alike, of doing justice to the opposition between the subject and the object, and yet of rising above it and reconciling it. Such a religion must bring the consciousness of God into its true form as the consciousness of a unity which is beyond all difference, while yet refusing the facile resource of a universality which simply lets the differences drop. The temptation to this fallacious path, whether it take the superficial form of an agnosticism, which renounces the hope of rising to any reconciling unity at all, or the deeper form of a pantheism which regards all differences as the shadows of our cave, is continually becoming greater, as the advance of human life and thought makes men aware of the depth of the divisions and oppositions to be overcome. And, therefore, it would be felt most strongly in reference to the opposition of the ideal and the real, between what ought to be and what is, were it not that, to a mind deeply impressed with the moral antagonism, nothing can be so repugnant as the doubt of the reality, or the assertion of the unreality of these distinctions. At the same time, such a mind must feel in the strongest way the opposite danger of a dualism which makes these distinctions absolute, and thereby deprives them of their moral meaning. The moral consciousness calls for a unity beyond its utmost oppositions and distinctions, yet it refuses to accept it on any terms which do not leave the reality of those oppositions and distinctions unaffected. Thus, on the one hand, it seems to stand out for dualism, for pessimism, for the absolute opposition of what ought to be to what, is; yet, on the other hand, it would be in despair if its protest were accepted as final. It hates any theory that would ‘heal its hurt slightly, or cry Peace, when there is no peace’: yet, it cannot reconcile itself to the idea that there is no healing for its wound, no way to put an end to its spiritual conflict with itself and the world. Hence, like Judaism, it cherishes a faith in the realisation of good, which yet it thrusts away into the past or the future; or, like Stoicism, it combines an optimism in general with a pessimism in particular; or, like Kant, it takes back as postulates of reason, what it surrenders as objects of knowledge. It lives, as it were, in the shadow of death, but it never ceases to believe in light and life, to long for them and to prophesy them.
The unique character of Christianity lay in this, that it was the response to the demand of such a divided moral consciousness. It was reconciliation for spirits that were in the deepest contradiction with themselves and with the world. It was an optimism addressed to those who were overpowered and possessed by the consciousness of misery and sin, good news of the kingdom of heaven to those whose souls were penetrated and oppressed with a sense of all the evils done under the sun. And it presented all this, not as realisable in some far off place and time, or in an ideal world of thought, but as realised there and then,—in an immediate consciousness so full and free that for it evil was weakness manifest, and good an outflow of divine life which nothing could resist. When Jesus said, ‘If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say to this sycamore tree, be thou plucked up by the roots and be thou planted in the sea, and it should obey you,’1 he was not speaking of any mere power of working outward miracles; rather he was expressing, in the face of suffering, sacrifice, and death, the triumphant consciousness of spiritual life as a power with which no outward force is commensurable, as indeed the power which makes and remakes the world, and for which all the force of nature is but the instrument.
“Winds blow and waters roll
Strength to the brave and power and deity.”
The secret of Jesus was the unswerving, uncompromising, practical idealism with which he faced the evils of life and the darkness of death, and refused to regard them as other than weapons in the hand of an omnipotent goodness which, in spite of them, and through them, is irresistibly realising its divine purpose.
There has been much controversy about the originality of Christianity, and especially of the teaching of Jesus—a controversy which has led to little profitable result, because it has dealt mainly with the particular details and not with the meaning and spirit of the whole. Just as the point of distinction between man and the other animals has been sought in some special bone, or sinew, or convolution of the brain, so the distinctive excellence and originality of Christianity has been sought in some special ethical precept or principle, to which nothing analogous can be found in any previous religious or philosophical system. There is, however, no originality which we may not fritter away on such a method; for, in a sense, all moral truth is implicitly contained in the first experiences of a self-conscious being, and, therefore, glimpses of the highest to which man can rise may be expected even in the earliest stages of human development. In this region originality consists only in the deepening and widening of generally recognised truths, or in applying with clear consciousness and systematic purpose, ideas which were before apprehended as passing lights of intuition. It is, therefore, little to the purpose to say that Jewish prophets described a suffering ‘servant of God,’ who “bore the sins and carried the sorrows of others”; or that Jewish Rabbis long before Christ, or even Chinese moralists before Confucius, formulated the golden rule. As little is it to the purpose to point to Plato's assertion that it is better to suffer than to do injustice, or to his proof that there is a spiritual life in man which death cannot affect. These and many other points of contact between Christian and pre-Christian thought undoubtedly exist; yet, when we look at the ideas and character of Jesus as a whole, we can see that all such scattered elements have there acquired a new meaning, as the elements of a new unity—a new organic conception of human life in its relations to nature and to God—which, taken in its entirety, has no previous counterpart, and which, indeed, constitutes the greatest step that has ever been gained in the spiritual development of man.
It is true that the inner self-consistency and completeness of the new religious consciousness is partly concealed from us by the aphoristic character of the words of Jesus, which present only one aspect of things at a time, and generally present it in a form so bold and epigrammatic as to cast all other aspects into the shade. It is concealed from us also by what we may call the dialectical form of those utterances, i.e. the way in which complementary but contrasted elements of truth are set side by side, each of them being stated so absolutely as to lead to a verbal contradiction with the others. The religious idea which Jesus had to reveal was so complex that it could not be expressed in language generally intelligible, except by the method of first emphasising one side and then another, and leaving the mind of the hearer, aided by the impression of the living personality of the teacher, to make the necessary synthesis. Nay, we may say that the essential aim which bound the whole doctrine together—the aim of revealing a reconciling principle which could overcome the deepest antagonisms of life—necessitated a manner of speech in which the contradiction was brought to the front, and thrown as a spiritual problem into the soul of the learner. Hence we have a multitude of antitheses, sometimes drawn out into parables, sometimes compressed into axioms of spiritual life, each of which, to a superficial view, seems to contain rather a problem than the solution of it; for they bring opposite ideas into such close combination, that we are again and again tempted to cast away one half of the lesson in order to save the other. Are we to regard the Gospel as the fulfilment of the Law, or as the destruction of it? Does Jesus authorise, or finally abolish the Messianic hopes of the Jews? Is his morality intended to be one of negative self-sacrifice, or of positive self-realisation? Does he reveal an immanent, or a transcendent God; and are we ultimately to class his religion as a form of monotheism, or as a form of pantheism? To such questions no simple answer can be given, except by an undue emphasising of one set of utterances and an undue neglect of others. Nay, to give such an answer, we should often need to tear a sentence in two and to reject one half of it. In regard to every one of them we are forced to say, that what the question itself expresses as a choice of alternatives is really a vital opposition of thought, which Jesus seems to have acknowledged and even developed to its utmost intensity, but yet which it was his aim and purpose to transcend. And when we have got so far, the further question must arise in our minds, whether all these different antitheses are not forms of one great antithesis of the spiritual life, which, if soluble at all, have only one fundamental solution. If this should turn out to be the case, then we shall have to seek for the originality of Jesus just in the nature of this solution, and nowhere else.
Now, in speaking of the development of subjective religion, I have already indicated one form of the contradiction with which Jesus had to deal. The whole history of the religion of Israel is a history of the development of the moral consciousness, and consequently of the deepening and widening of the opposition between that which ought to be and that which is. And in the end, that opposition becomes so strongly expressed as to approximate to a Manichaean dualism. For the unsophisticated mind of early times, the general problem of evil scarcely existed. The Divine Being was not yet regarded as a universal source of justice, nor was the idea of goodness yet separated from its natural root in the ties of kindred. At this stage, therefore, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was regarded as hostile to foreign nations and their gods, and also to the degenerate Israelite who worshipped any other god, and thereby—for the two things necessarily went together—broke away from the unity of the national life. The supreme sin was to refuse to bow at the altars of Jehovah, and not to be ready to come ‘to the help of Jehovah against the mighty.’ God was conceived on the analogy of the head of a tribe, who dispensed good to His own people and evil to their enemies, and who, in His relations to the individuals of His own people, rewarded faithful service and punished rebellion as the greatest, and, indeed, as the only crime. In such a time the only difficulty seemed to be that the triumph of Israel was not complete, or that the rewards and punishments were so long delayed. But, as the religion of the prophets soared above national limits, and Jehovah came to be regarded as the God of all men and of all nations—a God who was not bound up with the existence of the Jewish people, but might punish it for its sins even by the crushing of its national life; or who, if He maintained that life, did so only that through Israel ‘all nations might be blessed’—the conceptions of good and evil became universalised and purified, and it became more difficult to conceive that the same Divine Being, who was the author of good, should also be the creator of evil. Hence, pari passu with the development of ethical monotheism and the purification of the idea of God's goodness from national partiality, we find a growing tendency among the Jews to admit that evil has its source in a subordinate, but relatively independent, power. The Persian dualism of good and evil spirits thus found entrance into Israel just because of the widening of morality and religion beyond their merely national forms. The beginnings of a belief in an evil power which worts against goodness and God, are traceable in some passages in the later books of the Old Testament, as e.g. in the appearance of Satan in the book of Job, where, however, he seems to be still regarded as a minister of God.2 But in the interval, between the close of the prophetic writings and the Christian era—as we see from some of the Apocryphal books—the idea of a kingdom of evil, a realm of demons ruled by Satan or Beelzebub, and forming the opposite counterpart to a realm of angels ruled by God, had gained possession of the Jewish mind. And to the influence of such demons it became customary to attribute, not only the suggestions of evil in the human heart, but also most of the afflictions that flesh is heir to. In particular, as we see from the New Testament, all kinds of mental disturbance, and all diseases which are accompanied by violent convulsions or sudden collapse of energy, were conceived to be the effects of demoniacal possession. So far had this dualistic view of things gone, that, to the popular consciousness, goodness presented itself as a feebly struggling power of resistance, which with continually greater difficulties was maintaining itself against the established authority of evil. The ‘prince of this world’ was the devil, and the servants of God in this world were in the enemy's country. It is true that with this always went the idea that those who were fighting for the good cause, were in alliance with the ultimate power of the universe; and that therefore the good cause must ultimately prevail, and the kingdom of heaven be set up on earth. But this faith could not remove the oppression of the immediate sense of the weakness of good and the strength of evil. The good man ‘in this present evil world’ seemed to be always swimming against the tide, or resisting the natural bent of things; and the hope of deliverance took the shape, not of an anticipation of victory as the result of continued effort, but of a prophetic expectation of some mighty interference from above, that would suddenly change and even invert the whole system of nature.
Now in this consciousness of the time there were undoubtedly many elements of superstition. The pessimistic surrender of the present world to evil, the hope of a sudden catastrophic overturn which should give the victory to good, the belief that this world is a kingdom of Beelzebub which can only be overthrown by the miraculous intervention of a Messiah revealing himself in outward signs and wonders, seem to involve a purely outward and, we might almost say, a scenic view of the movement of history. Yet such popular conceptions were really the indication of a stage in the development of the moral consciousness far more advanced than the superficial optimistic hopes of the early religion of Israel, in which the faithfulness of the nation to its God was regarded as certain at once to bring about its triumph over all its enemies. To this it may be added that the outward movement of the history of Israel was such as to stimulate the development of the religious idea in this direction. If we think of the deep spiritual aspirations which had grown up in the later period of the Jewish history, and had found expression in some of the Psalms, and, on the other hand, of the hard struggle with circumstances and with the overpowering material pressure of Persian, Greek, and Roman despotism, through which Judah had to maintain its faith in the God of Israel, we can understand how natural it might seem to those who still held to that faith to regard the whole world, all its powers and principalities, spiritual and natural, as banded together against the good cause, and to think that nothing but some miraculous interference of the far-off divine power, could bring about their deliverance. The mournful minor key of the Psalms,—lifting the solitary protest of the heart against triumphant evil and appealing to the God of Justice to break forth from the clouds in which He is hidden, and to reveal Himself as a just God and a Saviour,—becomes the expression of the permanent attitude of the saints in this world. “Give us help from trouble, for vain is the help of man,”3 was the natural utterance of those who were outwardly weak and oppressed, while at the same time they were conscious of an inward life which lifted them above all their oppressors. And this cry de profundis gained a still deeper pathos from the fact that those who raised it had become aware that they needed to be delivered, not only from outward but from inward evils, not only from foreign oppressors but from themselves, not only from Greek or Roman tyranny, but from their own iniquities. Thus the hope of a deliverance from above, to those who were helpless against the wrongs of the world and helpless even against the evil of their own hearts, naturally gave birth to the prophecy of a kingdom of heaven which was not to arise by any natural process, nor by any human agency, but which, by a direct divine intervention, was to destroy the established powers of the world, and set itself up in their place.
In the light of this strained consciousness of evil, for which the power of darkness was so near, and the power of light and life so far off, we can understand the electric effect of the word of John the Baptist, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It meant that that which had hitherto seemed so weak, so poor, so destitute of all inward and outward resources, was immediately to manifest itself as the great power of the world; that right was now at length to show itself as might; that the deliverance from evils within and without, which had been longed for but hardly expected, except in some dim future or in another world, was already at the door. It awakened the hope of a triumph of good in the face of an apparently complete victory of evil, and turned a distant possibility, to which faith had been clinging, into an immediate prospect. The word, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” was thus the last word of prophecy; and it was the most potent of all its words, because it was delivered at a time when, to the awakened conscience of men, the powers of this world seemed to be almost wholly evil.
But the oracles of prophecy are always ambiguous, and they may be read in a higher or a lower sense, according to the point of view of the hearer. In the general consciousness of the Jews, vulgar hopes of the triumph of the people of Israel over all its enemies, of an outward reign of the faithful nation over a subject world, were mingled with the expectation of a final manifestation that good was stronger than evil, and of the deliverance of man from its power. Even the idea that help was to come from God alone, and not from man, might be interpreted in the sense that it was to come by an external miracle, which should, without any effort of their own, put them in possession of the good they sought. On the other hand, it might mean a spiritual reinforcement of man's faith, by which he should be enabled to realise the good after which he had been so long striving in vain. The proclamation of the kingdom of heaven was, therefore, the stirring up of the deepest springs of all that was best and all that was worst in the consciousness of the time. It was the provocation of a struggle between the deepest spiritual forces in man's nature,—a struggle in which more distinct moral issues were involved than in any previous religious conflict or controversy.
The first step toward the κρίσις, the distinction and division of these confused moral forces into opposing hosts, was made by John the Baptist in his demand for repentance as the preparation for the coming kingdom. This word involved the lesson that for each man the great hindrance to the coming of the highest good he could desire, was to be found in himself; that he was an accomplice in all the ills from which he suffered. Hence the attitude of one who desired to partake in the blessings of the kingdom, was not to be an inert receptiveness of a good to be poured down from above; but, so to speak, the enlisting in an army which was only waiting for its leader, and which, in the meantime, had to discipline itself into readiness for his service. The gift had, indeed, to come from above, but it would come only to those who had their loins girt and their lamps burning, who were waiting and prepared to receive it. This is the first blow at the idea of an external kingdom of heaven, which should be established among men by a transcendent act of divine power.
So far, however, in the teaching of the Baptist, the idea presented to us is only that of a moral preparation for a religious deliverance, which has to be externally added to it. On the other hand, the distinctive characteristic of the teaching of Jesus is, that in it the endeavour of man and the gift of God are brought together, and morality and religion are unified. To the Jew, even at the point of view of the Baptist, the moral life was an ineffectual effort of the finite to raise itself to the infinite, of sinful man to bring himself into harmony with the divine law of perfection. But this effort necessarily fails, and to it, therefore, the Divine Being must externally add a completion which it has not in itself; just as in the Kantian philosophy immortality and God had to be postulated to give room for the accomplishment of the endless task of morality, and to secure to the goodness thus perfected the happiness it deserves. But the gospel of Jesus rapidly passed from the form, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” to the form, “The kingdom of heaven is already in the midst of you.” It is already present in the reconciled consciousness of Jesus himself and of his disciples, who, as they call God their Father, can no longer look upon the world as subjected to the power of evil. Thus the essential change in the Christian mode of thought is, that the divine life ceases to be postponed to a future, either on earth or beyond the grave. It has, indeed, a future, in the sense that the seed has a future in the plant that springs from it; but the principle of that future is already here. The leaven is already working in the mass, “until the whole be leavened.” The religion of prophecy is at an end, and the religion of fulfilment and fruition has come. “All the prophets and the law prophesied until John,” but, “from henceforth the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”4 “Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see, and hear the things that ye hear: for many prophets and kings have desired to see what ye see and have not seen them, and to hear what ye hear and have not heard them.”5 Men need not henceforth look beyond their immediate life, or listen to those who say, ‘Lo! here,’ or ‘Lo! there.’6 They need only to become conscious of what they have and are, from the point of view to which Christ has raised them. God is not a transcendent power who rules from a far-away heaven; He is without as He is within; and the Christian is not therefore as one who holds an outpost in the land of the enemy, but as one who knows that all things work together for the success of him who seeks to realise the good, even those things that seem to offer most resistance to his efforts. To such a consciousness sorrow can only be the trial of faith, the discipline of man's soul, whereby he is made capable of a higher good. And even sin, as it is possible only through the self-ignorance of a lower stage of development, must be, if not the means to a higher good, yet at least the condition through the negation of which it is attained.
The great problem of the Old Testament, the difficulty that vexes the soul of Job—“Why is the course of the world unjust?” “Why is the righteous man troubled, and why is the wicked man allowed to succeed?”—now for the first time meets with a real answer. The righteous man is troubled, because his righteousness is yet in germ, and it cannot be developed except through trouble. Evil is or appears to be triumphant, because its immediate triumph is necessary to its final extinction. The course of the world is just; but it is not justice to a being who is in process of growth to treat the life of to-day as if it were final, and had no reference to the past and the future. In seeking for the law of the world, the whole process of development of the individual man and of humanity must be taken into account; and that process has a negative, as well as a positive aspect. The future comes out of the present, not by the unfolding of an already completed life which contains already preformed in it all that it can ever manifest, but by a change which involves the breaking up and renewal of the whole form of the organism. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone.”7 The richer life of the future cannot be attained except by a loss in the immediate life of the present. And, in the case of a conscious and self-conscious being, this means that pain, self-denial, self-renunciation, self-sacrifice, is the only way whereby joy and self-realisation—the goodness which is happiness, and the happiness which is goodness—can be reached.
Jesus, then, solves the problem of life—which had seemed so hard to the saints of the Old Testament, and which had ultimately led to the almost dualistic view of existence which prevailed in the pre-Christian era—by teaching that all the phenomena which had given rise to a doubt of the justice of God, and even to a belief that He had abandoned this world to the power of evil, were explicable as necessary for the development of the highest good. Thus calamities are to be regarded as not, or at least not merely, punishments for sin, but rather as tokens of God's goodness that will not allow men to abide in evil. Nay, even those furious outbursts of persecuting hate, which seem to be the most decisive manifestations of the spirit of evil, are to be taken as the opportunities for the decisive triumph of good over it. Bacon's saying, that “prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament and adversity of the New,” is the epigrammatic expression of a truth. The general idea which pervades the Old Testament is that, at least after a short space of trial, faithfulness must be rewarded by outward success; whereas the New Testament,—looking at calamity, suffering, and conflict with evil as necessary means of spiritual development, and regarding the whole course of the life of the individual and of humanity as the opportunity for such development,—is prepared to see a divine justice and a divine love even in the darkest sorrows and utmost outbreaks of the powers of evil. The Christian is prepared to build a temple to God on the grave of every earthly hope, and even out of the stones of the sepulchre. “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it,”8 is a principle which turns even the prison and the cross into the manifestations of divine goodness, and uses the utmost violence of human selfishness and malice as the opportunity for the outflow of an infinite love which, so to speak, absorbs it and swallows it up.
Our ordinary view of the world wavers between optimism and pessimism; but, as it approaches optimism, it is apt to become shallow and superficial, and, as it approaches pessimism, it is apt to become morbid and distorted. Men who are satisfied with life as it is, are mostly those who live in a healthy surface activity which keeps them from reflexion, and hurries them on from moment to moment, and from object to object, without allowing time for the sense of dissatisfaction to arise. With men of such a type, an optimistic temper may maintain itself so Ions as circumstances are favourable, and no great shock of disappointment or failure conies to throw them back upon themselves. But such optimism is merely the contentment of those who have never fathomed their own hearts, and who, just for that reason, are not aware of the discrepancy between what they want and what they get. It is the optimism of children, who as yet know neither the world nor themselves. But reflexion, as it brings to us the consciousness of our finitude, sets the infinite over against us, as that which is unattainable, and yet as that which alone can satisfy us. It causes us “to look before and after,” and therefore to “pine for what is not.” It makes us aware of the division between the real and the ideal both in ourselves and in the world; and the more this is felt, the deeper is the aching sense of want. World-weariness and self-disgust, the hopelessness of an Ecclesiastes in the contemplation of “all the evils done under the sun,” the despair of an Obermann, who finds that the heart of man is a “gulf in which the void always returns,” and that all finite satisfactions, in the expressive phrase of Goethe, are “corrupted ere they are broken from the tree,”—these are in a sense diseased and morbid feelings; but, in another sense, they are only the natural fruits of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And if such reflexion takes a moral direction, it is equally natural that the world should come to be regarded,—as it was regarded by the Jews at the beginning of the Christian era,—as a sphere dominated over by an evil power which can be over-thrown only by some stupendous revolution, by some violent interference from above, which shall change the whole present system of things. “No one can enter into the house of the strong man, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.”9
Now the wounds of reflexion can only be healed by a deeper reflexion. As the paralysis of scepticism can be removed only by the philosophy which detects a principle of truth that is deeper than any possible doubt, so the despair of pessimism can be repelled only by the insight which detects “a soul of goodness in things evil.” The power of the teaching of Christ lies in this: that he starts from the Jewish consciousness which, in its realisation of the hindrances to good, had all but reached the point of dualistic pessimism; and that he rises to the idea of a goodness, whose triumph nothing can hinder, which is beyond the antagonism, and which uses the antagonism itself as a means for its own manifestation. The strange doctrine of the Church as to the descent of Christ into Hell no doubt has another meaning; but it might be taken as a poetic expression of the fact that Christ's belief in a divine love which turns all things into good, was not reached by evading the full meaning of the experience of evil, but by taking it at its worst, and overcoming it. Now the constant charge made against optimistic writers is that they gloss over the difficulties of life, that they make things too easy, hiding from themselves, and sophistically trying, to hide from others, the realities of human misery and ruin, and the still more dreadful realities of human guilt and sin—the pollution and cruelty, the selfish indulgence and the equally selfish ambition and greed of man. Their reconciling theories, therefore, involve a denial, or, at least, an ignoring of the depth of the evils that beset us, and a confusing of the deepest moral distinctions. So when Emerson, one of the purest of modern optimists, declares that “all loss, all pain is particular,” that “good is positive and evil merely privative”; that “while a man seeks good ends, he is strong with the whole strength of nature,” or even that “evil is good in the making”; and that “the carrion in the sun will convert itself to grass and flowers; and man, though in brothels, or gaols, or on gibbets, is on his way to all that is good and true,”—we are inclined partly to explain such utterances by the lofty and pure, but somewhat ethereal and abstract nature of the man, and to contrast them unfavourably with the sad and almost despairing words of his friend Carlyle, whose apprehension of the evils of the world was so close and vital, and whose belief in divine justice seemed often to reduce itself to a distant hope. So when Browning with cheery oprimism sings, “God's in His heaven; all's right with the world,” or Schelling tells us, that all evil vanishes when we view it sub specie æternitatis, men who are of less happy temperament than Browning, or who find it harder than Schelling to lose the divisions of life in the unity of abstract thought, are apt to revolt violently against such seemingly easy ways of escape from the clouds into the serene either of religious mysticism, and to say with Shakespeare, “He jests at scars who never felt a wound.” Even Hegel, in spite of his constant insistence on the negative element in existence, and on “the earnestness, the pain, the labour, and the patience” involved in that element, does not entirely escape the accusation of ‘healing the hurt’ of man too ‘slightly,’ of explaining away the darker aspects of life, and of confusing the opposites whose antagonism he seeks to reconcile.
It is a significant fact that no one has ever brought such an accusation against the greatest optimist whom the world has ever seen. And the reason seems to be, that in the life and death of Jesus the consciousness of suffering and evil, not as a far-off subject of reflexion, but as an immediate and personal experience, is raised to the highest conceivable point of intensity. As Jesus is presented to us in the Gospels, he “bears the sins and sorrows of men,” not in any remote theological sense, but in the sense that his deep personal sympathy with others makes their sorrows, and even their sins, his own; that it is his life-work to destroy both in their deepest roots and sources; and that in doing so he is forced to share in the bitterest forms of human suffering, and to draw upon himself the utmost malice of human passion. Neither is his endurance of these evils the hard constancy of the Stoic who defies the world, nor the passive resignation of the mystic who withdraws himself from it. From no lips ever came sterner expressions of antagonism to the “evil deeds, evil words, and evil thoughts” which ruin the life of men; or more unmeasured and even fierce condemnation of the hypocrites who put evil for good and wrong for right. But as, while seeking with all his power to soothe and relieve the darkest physical ills of man, he yet constantly maintains that suffering may be only a blessing in disguise; so, while contending against spiritual evils, he yet uncompromisingly asserts that the power of wicked men is given them from above, and given just in order to the highest manifestation of good. Nay, he asserts that in evil men themselves there is a deeper will for, good beneath their will for evil, which might, and the perhaps we may even say must, ultimately overthrow it. The prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” is the expression—in the face of the darkest possible manifestation of human malice—of a faith not only in God, but also in man, and in the inextinguishable possibility of good in him. It is this certainty of ultimate triumph, this combination of the despair of pessimism with an optimism that overreaches and overpowers it, nay, even that absorbs it as an element into itself, which constitutes the unique character of the religion of Jesus.
- 1. Luke xvii. 6.
- 2. In Zechariah iii. 1 Satan appears as the accuser of Joshua the high priest before the angel of the Lord. Isaiah (xlv. 7) seems to protest against the Persian dualism, when he makes Jehovah say: I form the light and create darkness: I make peace and create evil, I, Jehovah, do these things. One of the most significant traces of the incoming of the dualistic mode of thought is to be found in 1 Chronicles xxi. 1, where the statement in 2 Samuel xxiv. 1 that Jehovah moved David to number the people is changed into the assertion that Satan provoked David to number Israel. Cf. Kuenen, Religion of Israel, iii. 40.
- 3. Psalms lx. 11.
- 4. Matt. xi. 12, 13.
- 5. Luke x. 23, 24; Matt. xiii. 16, 17.
- 6. Matt. xxiv. 23.
- 7. John xii. 24.
- 8. Matt. xvi. 25; Mark viii. 35; Luke ix. 24.
- 9. Mark iii. 27.