THE Jewish religion was a religion of hope and promise: in contrast to the unsatisfying reality, its seers set forth the Ideals of a future time of salvation in which God was to glorify Himself in His people, and redeem them from all evil. And the sadder the reality took shape at any time, so much the higher did the ideal hope rise. When the Assyrian empire at one time oppressed Judah, prophets like Isaiah and Micah recognised Jehovah as the moral governor of the world who directed the fates of the nations. When the Babylonian empire broke the Jewish state to pieces, Jeremiah saw, rising on the far horizon, the time of a new government when God's law would be written in men's hearts. When under the oppression of the Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes, the further existence of the Jewish religion was threatened, the prophetic thought of the kingdom woke out of long slumber, and rose in Daniel's Apocalypse to the vision of a kingdom of the Saints under a wonderful Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven. After flourishing for a short time, the government of the Asmoneans had again passed away; and the Jewish people, instead of attaining to the universal dominion they had hoped, had been actually subdued under the Roman rule. This, the deepest humiliation of the people of God, had roused the national and religious feeling of the pious Jews in the deepest way, and had heightened their hope for the redemption of Israel out of the hand of their enemies to spasmodic intensity. The rising of Judas the Galilean was an outbreak of this excited feeling, and it had ended with his own destruction and that of his followers. Yet the tragic end of this pretended Messiah could not quench the Messianic hopes of the people: they flamed up strongly anew when from the wilderness of Judea there sounded the call of John the Baptist, “Repent; the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Notwithstanding the silence of Josephus, there can be no doubt regarding the Messianic background of this preaching of repentance. If John did not himself claim to be the Messiah, yet he meant to prepare the way—that is, to prepare the people for the immediately-to-be-expected appearance of the Messianic day of judgment, that introduction of the kingdom of the Messiah. That it was the Messianic hopes which drove the crowds of people to the austere preacher in the wilderness was very soon perceived by the government of Herod, and it hastened to remove out of the way a prophet who was dangerous for its own safety.
What John the Baptist had begun, was continued in another way and with another result by Jesus of Nazareth. He had been among those who, moved by the proclamation of the near kingdom of God, had hurried to John and had become consecrated by baptism for the reception of this kingdom. After the imprisonment of the Baptist, Jesus continued his preaching, and, in fact, as the Gospels relate, with the same words, “Repent; the kingdom of God is at hand.” There is nothing that would justify us in holding the view that Jesus had from the beginning already connected another sense with these words than the Baptist and the rest of the people. Rather is it extremely probable, because he does not find it necessary to explain the idea, that Jesus understood the conception of the kingdom of God exactly in the same sense as all others before him did, namely, in the Apocalyptic sense of a redemption of the oppressed people and a renovation of all things on earth brought about by divine Omnipotence. And yet the appearing and working of Jesus was from the beginning entirely different from that of the Baptist. John was a severe preacher of repentance according to the manner of Elijah and Ezekiel; preaching the approach of the kingdom was in his mouth a threatening of judgment which was meant to convulse and to humble sinners. In the mouth of Jesus that preaching became “glad tidings” for the consolation of the mourners and the raising up of those who were bowed down. In what did the ground of this difference lie?
We shall have to seek it only in the religious personality of Jesus himself. It was not the zealous spirit of an Elijah that lived in him, but the spirit of childlike trust in God and inward love to God, as it is expressed in many passages of Jeremiah and of the second Isaiah, and especially in many of the Psalms. That utterance of the mystic religion of the heart: “If I have only Thee, I ask nothing from heaven and earth,” had found its echo in the pious soul of Jesus; and therefore God was not to him, as to the theologians of the Jewish schools, a far-off unapproachable power, not a severe terrible judge, but the “Father” with whom he knew himself to be connected in the most inward and confidential way, whom he trusted unconditionally, and whom he loved above all things. But this feeling of childlike piety in the case of Jesus was not the sacred thing of a solitary heart shut to the world and closing itself against it, nor such as would have made him indifferent to men's weal and woe, but it was combined in him with a merciful love of men which impelled him to communicate his pious belief and hope, and to make them a comfort and source of salvation for many. This trait particularly distinguishes the character of Jesus from the other forms of Jewish piety, which on the one hand drew back timidly and anxiously from the defiling contact of the sinful world, and on the other hand, by its loveless judging and condemning, repelled the weak and helpless and made them still more wretched. Not such was the manner of Jesus. He was grieved for the poor people in whom he beheld not outcast sinners but a scattered and bruised flock that needed leading and healing, and which he felt himself called to take into his charge and to help. Nor did he fear to defile his piety by contact with the sinful world; on the contrary, he trusted the impulse of holy love which lived in his heart and its power of overcoming evil by good. He relied immovably on the world-overcoming power of the good; for he believed in the living God, and felt himself secure in the guardianship of his heavenly Father. Between the inward love of God which raised him above the world of the bad and drew him to the heart of the heavenly redeeming God, and the pitying love of men which drove him to the redemption of his poor sinful brethren upon earth, there was in Jesus no discordance, but entire oneness. The religious and the moral motives stood in his case in the purest harmony and in the most fruitful reciprocity.
Because he felt himself united with God as intimately as the child is with his father, he could not, like the Rabbis, think of God as the judge of the future who was removed to a far distance in the other world, and who had abandoned the present world in the meantime to Satan. But God became to him again, as He had been to the old prophets, the living and omnipresent One who fills heaven and earth with His power and His spirit, who rules in nature as the all-good provider for all His creatures, who feeds the birds under the heavens and clothes the lilies of the field, but who cares still more, as a Father for men who, as His children, stand so near His heart that He numbers the hairs of their head, that He knows all their wants before they ask Him, that He sends down rain and sunshine on the just and on the unjust, without distinction, in His inexhaustible goodness. Yet to those who pray trustfully to Him He grants wonderful hearing of their prayers; and He will give them as the highest of His good gifts the Holy Spirit, that power of overcoming the world, that pledge of eternal life. But if God is thus the One who lovingly reveals Himself in the world, the Father who guides nature for men and who educates men for the eternal life of the kingdom of God, then the pious man cannot wish to serve Him by turning away from the world which still is, or is to be, the sphere of the government or kingdom of God; nor can he honour God by indifference towards men who still are, or are yet to become, God's children. Thus inmost piety or surrender to God becomes here the motive not of Essene flight from the world, or Stoicalapathy, or Indian resignation, or renunciation of the world, but of heartfelt brotherly love, of labour for the kingdom of God, of service for the human community.
But, on the other hand, in the view of Jesus the moral life was at the same time not a thing existing for itself; it was no mere natural and worldly striving after happiness and culture, but it had the root of its power and purity in religious faith. His merciful brotherly love was not a sentimental compassion which is roused to momentary feeling by the painful aspect of the distress of others, but which notwithstanding soon again flickers away and grows weary before the difficulties of everyday reality. Nor was it optimistic enthusiasm for the universal good and happiness of humanity, a visionary philanthropism which closes the eyes before the dark depths and shadows of human nature, only to become sobered by gradual undeception and to end in cold embitterment and hopeless despondency. Jesus was not such a fanatic: his knowledge of man was too clear and sober, and his conscience too earnest and strict, for him to become such a visionary. By comparing men as they actually are with the Ideal of the perfect God as it gleamed in his heart, he came to the universal judgment that men are “evil,” that out of their hearts proceed evil thoughts, that even their better inclinations are always again choked by the tares of the lust and care of this world; nay, that even the best among them “savour not of the things that be of God, but those that be of men”(Matt. xvi. 23), and that from the, fear and desire of pleasing men, from considerations of ambition and pride, they are always again drawn away from their divine destination and kept under the ban of vanity, of the world, and of mammon. And yet, with all this sober knowledge of men, what pitying human love, what joyous faith in the possibility of the salvation and redemption of those who are sunk and lost in sin and the pleasures of the world! How would such have been possible, if this trusting love of men had not had its root in trusting love to God, the Father of all spirits? The eye of Jesus did not, like that of the realistic man of the world, keep, itself fixed on the distorted features of man as he appears; he saw deeper and more radically. He viewed man in the depths of his soul, and recognised in its most hidden essence that image of God which was not to be entirely obliterated by any diseased state: he recognised the germ of the child of God, that spiritual impulse which springs from the Father of spirits and strives back to Him, and which, however much it may be fettered by the bonds of the flesh and of the world, yet always lives and struggles after redemption, and yearns for light and life and freedom. Therefore was he driven by a divine power of love and faith to become a leader to those who had strayed, a deliverer to those who were in prison, a physician to the sick, and a shepherd to the scattered flock. That life united with God and blessed in God which he bore in himself, he would not keep as a spoil for himself alone; but he wished to communicate it to his unhappy brethren in order that they also might become what they were all destined and made capable of becoming—namely, sons and daughters of the heavenly Father, as he already actually was, as “the first-born among many brethren.” And just because Jesus was already in his conscious personal life what was yet present only as germ and capacity in all others, as a divining and yearning hope and desire, therefore did he know himself, as no other did, to be capacitated and called to bring to birth and to realise the divine spiritual life still bound up in his brethren and become a Saviour to the sick, an awakener to the dead, a redeemer to the captives.
But with this the task taken up by Jesus had become quite different from what it had been for the Baptist. However he might share with John the idea of the near kingdom of God, yet for him it was no longer enough merely to fling the summons to repentance as a ferment among the masses of the people, and then, away from the world in the solitude of the desert, to wait for whatever issues of things were yet to come. His task was rather to begin the work of saving and educating love in the individual, and to carry it out in constant patience and gentleness. The Spirit led him out of the wilderness back into the towns and villages of Galilee, in order to go after men in the schools and lanes and houses, so as to seek and to save those that were lost, to instruct the ignorant, to comfort the mourners, to forgive the penitent, to heal the sick, and to call those who were ready and willing to receive him to become his followers, and enter into lasting fellowship with him. Thus was fulfilled to him the prophecy of Isaiah (xlii. 1 ff.; Matt. xii.17 ff.) of the elect servant of God, the teacher of the people, anointed with the spirit, who should not cry nor lift up his voice, nor quench the smoking flax, nor break the bruised reed, till he should have brought forth judgment (the decisive struggle) unto victory. In this consisted what was specifically new in the work of Jesus, what essentially distinguished him not merely from John the Baptist but also from all earlier prophets and placed him high above them—namely, that he not merely foretold the coming of the kingdom of God as a future event, and awaited it inactively as a divine dispensation accomplished apart from all human co-operation, but that he made its realisation a task for human work, which might be designated with one word, as the work of the religious-moral education of man. Thereby he has become the founder and head not merely of a new religion, but of a new spiritual world, whose abiding task for all time may be summed up in one word—namely, to educate natural men to be “men of God,” to train the children of the earth to become citizens of the kingdom of God.
Was this work of educating love, as Jesus knew and exercised it from the beginning as His calling, then in reality merely a preparation of the future kingdom of God? was it not rather already the beginning of the actually existing kingdom of God itself? Certainly we may answer this question from our standpoint decidedly in the affirmative; for what else is the kingdom of God but just a community in which the spirit of divine Sonship is active in educating men to be men of God? But the question is not so simple in its bearing in so far as it has to do with the consciousness of Jesus himself. For not only is there nothing to entitle us to assume that Jesus connected with the idea of the kingdom of God from the outset another sense than the Baptist and the people, but we also find narrated, as from the latter period of his activity, a series of expressions in which the coming of the kingdom appears as a future thing, and as a new ordering of things, which is to be effectuated with wonderful catastrophes. I remind you of the petition in the Lord's Prayer, “Thy kingdom come”; of the prophecy, “There be some that stand here which shall not taste of death till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power” (Mark ix. 1); of the promise to the twelve that at the renovation of the world “they would sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel,” and the saying that the pious should sit down with the Patriarchs in the kingdom in the future; of the parting words at the Last Supper, “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God shall come” (Luke xxii. 18, 29 f.); and, finally, of the question of the disciples to their departing Lord, “Wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom of Israel?” (Acts i. 6). On this point Keim has, as I believe, rightly observed: “Against the total impression awakened by these facts the objection cannot be raised that Jesus only spoke in images, nor even that the disciples corrupted His utterances by giving them a sensuous meaning. For Jesus was so wise that He would not have spoken in figures which set all the national wishes and passions in motion, if He actually rather wished the opposite, . . . and the Gospels are not so unworthy of credit that they should have turned the activity of Jesus into the very opposite of what it was; for with such a view the history of Jesus ceases entirely to be history.”1 But just as little can it be contested that there are other passages opposed to those which have just been quoted, in which the actual presence of the kingdom appears to be expressed. In this connection it is usual to think, first of all, of the well-known passage, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for behold the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke xvii. 20 f.) Yet I hesitate to give specially to this passage a decisive importance, as it stands in such striking contradiction with the immediately following description of the appearing of the Son of Man as coming with the swiftness of a flash of lightning, that we may doubt of its being original. Incontestable, on the other hand, are the Parables in which the kingdom of God is compared with the gradually developing seed-corn, with the mustard-seed growing up to a tree, with the leaven permeating the meal, with the hidden treasure and the pearl into the possession of which the happy finder is immediately put; and we have further to remember the judgment pronounced upon the Baptist, “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” “There is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke xvi. 16, vii. 28; Matt. xi. 11 ff.) Here unquestionably John is designated as the turning-point between the old and new age of the world, and because he still belongs to the old, as being in principle inferior to the adherents of the kingdom of God—that is, to the disciples of Jesus; from which it follows that those disciples are already in possession of the kingdom of God, and that kingdom is therefore already present in their community. With this is to be compared the answer which Jesus gave to the question of the Baptist, whether he was the one who was to come; the expected redeemer of Israel? “Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and to the poor the Gospel is preached. And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me ” (Luke vii. 22). Accordingly, from the actual results of the work of Jesus, from his power to heal and mitigate spiritual and bodily disease and distress, the Baptist is to give himself the answer to his own question. We are also able to infer from this by what way Jesus Himself may have attained to the conviction of the presence of the kingdom of God as already begun. And a definite confirmation of this view is contained in the saying with which Jesus defended Himself against the accusation of the Pharisees, that he cast out devils by Beelzebub: “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you” (Matt. xii. 28).
In order to measure the range and reach of this saying, we have to remember that Jesus shared the idea of his time and his people, according to which the diseases of men were to be regarded as effects of the work of devils, and therefore signs of the dominion of their head—namely, Satan—over the present age of the world. According to the universal expectation, the coming of the kingdom of God was to consist essentially just in this, that God would again take actively into His own hand the government of the world, which had been to a certain degree suspended at the time and given over to Satan; that He would overcome Satan's dominion with superior power, and liberate His people from all the bonds in which Satan still held them captive through his many instruments. Under this idea the other Jews thought of liberation from the political dominion of the Romans, in whose empire the Pharisees beheld very especially the embodiment of the universal dominion of Satan; and consequently they thought of the coming of the kingdom of God as such a manifestation of the divine Omnipotence whereby the political condition of the world would be completely overturned, and the Jews who were enslaved at the time would be raised to be lords over the heathen kingdom of the Romans. Wholly different was the trend of the thought of Jesus. The political ideals of the future of Judea had indeed lain pretty far from this son of the poor Galilean people even from the beginning but they passed the more completely into the background of his view, the more his passionate soul was moved by the immediate distress in the circumstances of the masses of the people, who were economically and physically, as well as morally and religiously, ruined and wasted, and the more his attention was concentrated on a remedy for this social distress which would have to begin in the individuals. What we recognised above as the specifically new in the work of Jesus—namely, that he perceived his task to lie in the work of saving and educating love exerted on individuals—it was precisely this that led him also to the decisive new turn in his apprehension of the coming of the kingdom of God. To him, too, this coming consisted in an overcoming of the universal dominion of Satan by the superior power of God, but for the Saviour of the labouring and heavy laden the theatre of this conflict changed its place: he did not seek it (at least he did not seek it any longer primarily) in the great world and in the catastrophes of the fates of nations, but in the experiences of individual souls, in the suffering and healing of the sick and poor, the labouring and heavy laden. Now if in these circles, in a manner which was not less surprising and elevating to himself than to the people around him, he was able to experience what a wonderful power to heal and to animate his word exercised upon the souls and bodies of the unhappy of every kind, what then was more natural than that in these very wonderful and daily multiplying results of his saving word he should perceive the victorious power of the Spirit of God over the devils, and therefore the beginning of the overthrow of Satan's dominion, and consequently the beginning of the realisation of God's universal dominion in the world? So long as the divine spirit filled only his own inspired soul, he could not yet know the coming of the kingdom of God, the objective universal dominion of this spirit, as begun in the present; but when he saw how the spiritual power which filled himself was also communicated to others by his word, how it kindled their dead hearts with new glad life, and even liberated the sick bodies from their Satan's bonds and raised them up to new existence,—then, indeed, it became for him a certainty that Satan's dominion was coming to an end, and that God's kingdom had begun to dawn. “If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you” (Matt. xii. 28). “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (Luke x. 18).
This new important knowledge, so pregnant with consequences, which had sprung up to himself as a blissful fruit from his working as a Saviour, was now regarded by him as a thing which was also to be communicated to others, and first of all to the narrower circle of his disciples. Jesus chose for this purpose the form of the parable, which revealed “the mystery of the kingdom of God” in a form at once illustrating and veiling it through images of the life of nature. The original form of the parable of Jesus has been preserved to us by Mark (chap. iv.) Immediately after choosing the twelve disciples, as Mark relates, Jesus began to speak many things in parables to the people; but he then also gave the interpretation of them to his disciples, because it was given only to them to know the mystery of the kingdom of God. In three parables, which are distinguished by simplicity and clearness, the nature and growth of this kingdom is illustrated; and all three are taken from the sphere of the life of nature, from the sowing and growing of the seed. The first of these parables shows the founding of the kingdom by the seed of the word, which, according to the state of the heart, has always a different result,—now bringing forth no fruit at all, now only growing up and passing away, now bringing forth little fruit, and now yielding rich and abiding fruit. The second parable shows from the gradual growth of the seed, as it passes by an inner law through definite stages on to the ripe fruit, the constant development of the kingdom of God advancing from within outwards on to the completion of its earthly realisation — namely, the “harvest” as the conclusion of its process of development. Finally, the third parable, by the figure of the mustard-seed, describes the result, magnificent beyond expectation, which is reached at the end of the development, of the embracing greatness of the kingdom in its completion as it has grown out of small beginnings. A related, and yet again a specifically coloured, thought is contained in the parable of the leaven, which is placed in Luke and Matthew along with that of the mustard-seed, according to which the kingdom of God is apprehended as a spiritual principle eternally permeating and transforming humanity. In this parable, and that of the gradually growing seed—which Mark alone has (iv. 26–29), because its deep meaning was probably soon no longer understood—there is expressed with truly surprising clearness the great and genuinely modern thought of the “development” of the kingdom of God out of inner germs and forces, and according to inner laws and orders.—But if the divine spirit in humanity realises its essence out of itself like the self - developing seed - corn, and if it assimilates the reality like the leaven, does not this entirely annul and set aside the Apocalyptic idea of an establishment or completion of the kingdom as effected through external miraculous catastrophes? This is a common opinion at the present day, nor is its correctness in itself to be contested from the standpoint of our thinking; yet it must be pronounced an erroneous view, if this consequence is attributed to the consciousness of Jesus himself; for it would stand in manifest contradiction with many clear expressions in the Gospels. Besides, it is psychologically quite conceivable, and it is a fact confirmed by innumerable analogies of history, that old deeply-rooted religious notions that are supported by the authority of tradition are not set aside all at once by new ideas, but they continue to exist along with these ideas, while they gradually lose in significance under their influence, or even alter their meaning. So it was in this case too. Although what is essential in the kingdom of God—namely, the victorious activity and dominion of the divine spirit in human souls—has already begun with the new insight, yet the Apocalyptic notion of an impending miraculous and visible appearing of the kingdom of God “with power” (or of the heavenly Son of Man) was by no means done away or shaken for the consciousness of Jesus. One might perhaps say that in his intellectual conception of the kingdom of God this side did remain always the main thing, but its significance became different to his practical religious frame of mind. This is shown above all by this, that in the delineation of the future given by Jesus, the national political feature of Messianism is completely wanting: the hope of the Jews for a glorious revenge on their oppressors found in the pure and great soul of Jesus no echo at all. What for him has alone importance in the great day of the Lord is, that the moral results of every individual life shall come to manifestation; the faithful servant will enter into the joy of his Lord, the proud and secure sinners will be excluded from the communion of the blessed; the judgment will also bring to complete external accomplishment and to definite manifestation the separation between the wheat and the tares, the good and bad fishes, which is already internally present, and is grounded in the moral nature of individuals. With this view the thought of the future loses the eudæmonistic naturalistic character which it still had in the Apocalyptic Messianism. It is reduced to the purely religious thought of a future realising of moral ideas and worths. Without affecting the sensuous poetic form of the hope of the future of his peoples Jesus, with the immediate tact of the religious genius, put into relief the moral and religious content which was of abiding value. He bridged over the gulf between the present and the future. As the future dominion of God already projects into the present as a victorious working of the spirit, so, the present with its moral being and achievement already bears the fates of the future, of the eternal consummation, in its bosom. It is the seed which ripens to the harvest. Thus apprehended, the thought of the future is no longer the fantastic dream of the Apocalyptic writers, which seduces the mind into a quietistic indifference towards the tasks of the Now and Here ; but it becomes the powerful motive of moral working on the person of the individual himself and on the world. “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning.” “ Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching” (Luke xii. 3537).
As the preaching by the Baptist of the approaching kingdom of God had awakened in Jesus himself the consciousness of his life-task, that of working educatively on men, so he also again in his preaching made the nearing of the kingdom the motive of his moral demands, which are all summed up in the one, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”—that is, seek for participation in the kingdom of God by appropriating and practising the God-pleasing sentiment which corresponds to it. But in what does this righteousness which is to be demanded from the associate or member of the kingdom Consist? It consists — says Jesus at first, along with the whole of his people—in doing the will of God. “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Now the Pharisees had imagined that the demand of righteousness was to be satisfied by their resolving the divine will into an innumerable host of individual commands and prohibitions, and by their endeavouring to attain a painful literal observance of it in their outward conduct; but in doing so their heart had always gone further from God, and men had become ever poorer in humility and love, and hence Jesus required from his disciples a “better righteousness.” Not that he had rejected the law of Moses and substituted a new law for it—for, as a faithful son of Israel, he was far from this during the whole of his life; but treading in the footsteps of the prophets, the holy men of God of the early time, he opposed the Idealism of the moral disposition to the ritualism of ecclesiastical merit by works. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” It is not merely the evil deed but even the evil desire that already makes a man condemnable before God, the searcher of hearts. The perfect, God can require from man, His child, nothing less than to be perfect as He Himself is perfect. Jesus therefore did not destroy the law, but he fulfilled it by carrying it back to its last and highest end, the absolute Ideal of Godlike perfection. But in this highest requirement there lies at the same time enclosed the highest dignity and the highest happiness of man; for the perfection which we are to strive after is that of our Father, whose nature we bear in us and in whose image we are created. To become like Him means, therefore, only to fulfil our most proper destination, to realise our true nature, to become in full truth that which we already are in the ground of our being—namely, children of God, spirit of His spirit. But the essential nature of God as the Father is love, which communicates itself and is inexhaustibly rich in giving and forgiving. Accordingly the Godlike sentiment required from us can consist in nothing else than in love to God with all our heart and to our neighbour as to ourselves. Both commandments are undoubtedly already found in the Old Testament, but not connected with each other, and the second is limited to the members of the same people. Jesus abolished this limitation, and extended the commandment to our fellow-men generally; and he brought the two commandments into the closest connection with each other, and set them forth as the sum of the whole law, as the one religious-moral principle from which all individual commandments are to receive their moral estimation and significance.
Religion and morality are therefore brought into indissoluble connection by Jesus, and thereby each of them is raised to its Ideal elevation. There is to be no religion in the Christian world that should not be a motive of genuine moral sentiment and mode of action, and no morality which should not have the root of its power and the guarantee of its purity in the consciousness of religious obligation. With this there was first given an entirely new estimation of ritualistic action this is no longer a service performed to God by which man might acquire merit with God and purchase His favours, as Judaism and Heathenism supposed; but it is the satisfaction of man's need to give expression to his pious sentiment, and hence has worth only in so far as it is the utterance of this inward state. The external ceremonial or ascetic performance by itself alone is worthless ostentation—hypocrisy. Hence ritualistic performances are never to be set before the fulfilment of the simple moral duties, or even put in their place. Jesus said with the words of the prophet Hosea, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice,” and in the same sense as prophetism he rejects the Pharisaic practice which made the celebration of the Sabbath an end in itself at the cost of the wellbeing of man, or which neglected God's commandment to honour parents in order to honour the temple by sacrifice, or which took anxious pains for the purity of vessels and of the skin, but did not concern itself although the heart was full of the evil thoughts of pride, lovelessness, vanity, and covetousness, or which made a show of itself by much and long praying while the heart was far from the God whom the lips honoured. On the other hand, Jesus demands that the act of bringing gifts to the altar shall be interrupted when it is a question of becoming reconciled with an injured brother; and he ascribes value to prayer only in so far as it is the intercourse of the soul with its God, far from all external ostentation—the expression of childlike trust in God.
Unlimited trust in the bountiful providence of the heavenly Father, and undivided surrender of the whole self and of all one's property to the service of His kingdom—this it is in which the love to God has to exhibit itself. The trust in God which, as the fundamental mood of the mind of Jesus, runs through all his discourses, especially in the beginning of his Galilean ministry, is the world - overcoming Idealism of the Psalms and Prophets, which soars away above all that is finite directly to God, and knows its own life secure in its Father's will. “And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer believing, ye shall receive.” This certainly presupposes the disposition which makes the kingdom and the righteousness of God the main concern, and leaves all else, the satisfaction of the many finite wants, to be bestowed by God as an accessory consequence of the one highest good (Matt. vi. 33). The exhortation to trusting in God, in the sense of Jesus, therefore includes at the same time these two things : the requirement of renunciation of all selfish wishes and godless enjoyment of the world, and the assurance of the fulfilment of the true desire that is directed to the highest, along with the satisfaction likewise of the earthly wants that belong to human existence, in so far as they are subordinated to this desire. No thought is to be taken about eating and drinking and clothing as the heathen do, who seek after these things as the highest, and as ends in themselves ; but these things are nevertheless not to be denied their relative value on that account. “For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” But while this fundamental thought remains the same through the whole preaching of Jesus, yet a certain change in his mood towards it makes itself observable, in so far as at the outset the careless cheerfulness of childlike trust in God forms the ground tone, whereas later the emphasis falls upon the ascetic severity of the requirement of denial of the world and of self. No man can serve two masters, God. and Mammon; and hence one has to sell all that he has and give to the poor in order to gather for himself treasures in heaven. “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke xiv. 33). Men are even to unloose themselves from the bonds of earthly love to their nearest relatives, to renounce natural rights, to bear wrong and shame without resistance, to love their enemies and to bless them that curse them, to pluck out their very members that might become an offence to them — that is, to mortify the natural impulses — and even to hate and lose their own soul for Christ's sake, so that they might save it for the eternal life (Matt. v. 39 ff.; Luke xiv. 26 f.; Mark viii. 34 f.)
It is intelligible that such utterances of Jesus should be made the subject of very different judgments. They contain, in fact, the deepest truth of his religious ethics, together with its temporal limit. The deepest truth which Jesus impressed for the first time on humanity, and with a power such as no one else ever did, is this, Die and live again. Thou findest salvation nowhere but in the unconditional and unreserved surrender of thy whole self to God and His will of goodness: “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” The soul of man, the child of God, cannot find its rest and satisfaction in the perishing ungodly nature of the world; nor is it practicable to divide the heart between Mammon and God, as the Holy Ghost will have the whole man. Hence it is incumbent to lose one's own soul — that is, utterly to deny one's own will in so far as it would like to be something in itself, without and against God. However near this requirement appears to approach the principles of Indian asceticism and Stoical apathy, yet the distinction between them in principle is quite apparent. In Jesus the denial of self and the world is not the final thing, nor an end in itself, but is only a means of gaining the true self and a better world! “Whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel's, the same shall save it.” Whoever seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, to him will all else — namely, the finite things — be added. The sacrifices made for Christ's cause will be indemnified by a hundredfold compensation (Matt. xix. 29). Accordingly the ascetic demand in the case of Jesus does not rest, as it commonly does elsewhere in antiquity, upon a radical dualism between finite and infinite, nor upon unconditional negation and depreciation of the finite in favour of the sole justification of the infinite. From this error of an abstract pantheistic mysticism Jesus had been kept by his faith in the living God, the Father of spirits, whose nature it is to communicate Himself to His children, and therefore to preserve and not to annihilate their life. What is to be denied is only the false life of man that is at enmity with God, the life of the man who is still involved in the immediate state of nature, and who has not yet become aware, or participative, of his true nature as man and as child of God. As the corn of wheat bringeth not forth fruit unless it die, so man cannot realise his true nature as a Godlike spirit otherwise than by a breach with his false self, with that mode of existence which is hostile to God, and with the spirit of his sensuouslyselfish tendency of life which is natural to him. This “Die and live again” is the deep core of truth in the ethics of Jesus, beyond which no culture and science will ever pass. Nevertheless an unbiassed historical view will not be able to overlook the fact that this truth in Jesus' mode of apprehension and expression, as the Gospels exhibit it, appears clothed in a form which we can no longer now appropriate unchanged. We are accustomed to think of both the “die” and the “live again” in the sense of inner processes of the soul within the present life, as an ethical turning away of the mind from the natural and selfish mode of living, and elevation to a spiritual mode of living in eternal and universal ends. But the utterances of Jesus concerning the sacrifices to be made and the reward to be expected, in the case of his disciples, certainly go beyond this ethical sense; just as certainly as his utterances regarding the end of the world, and the future of the kingdom of God or the Son of Man, cannot be understood as merely allegories, but only as statements concerning external world-renewing events in the future. Jesus thus undeniably shared the Apocalyptic belief of his time of the near end of the present age of the world, and the dawn of a new supernatural age (αἰὼν οὑ̑τος, αἰὼν μέλλων); and to this eschatological supernaturalism logically corresponded his ethical supernaturalism—that is, the ascetic requirement of the not merely internal, but also external, renunciation of all that belongs to the present age, of goods and chattels, of family and calling, of friendship and fatherland. For all these sacrifices the disciples are promised a hundredfold compensation in the future new world (παλιγγενεσία) in which they shall no more marry or be given in marriage, and in which therefore the conditions of the life of earthly society shall be abolished. The ascetic negation of the present actual world and its social order has not therefore entered into Christian morals only at a later time, but has its roots in the morality of Jesus himself, and more particularly in the fact that in the consciousness of Jesus moral Idealism clothed itself in the form of eschatological supernaturalism. This was just the historically inevitable form, and in fact also the entirely suitable form, under which it was alone possible to introduce the new ideal spirit of Christianity into the world. The new spirit could not but put itself at first in harsh opposition to the old world, to all its forms of life, even to its higher moral goods. This was necessary, till it acquired such strength that it could become master of the resisting material of the world. Then could the mediation of the ascetic supernaturalism with the natural conditions of the life of earthly humanity begin in the forms of the historical self-organising life of the Christian community.
Certainly the lingering influence of the original ascetic supernaturalism was still preserved in the form of the Catholic Monasticism, that institution in which the Church has continued to maintain its world-denying tendency along with its world-ruling power. It was the Reformation which did away with this remnant of the primitive Christian asceticism. The Protestant ethics finds the kingdom of God in the God-pleasing formation of the Society of this world; and thereby the striving after this kingdom is also divested of its initial ascetic supernaturalistic character, and put into harmony with the earthly conditions of the life of society. It thus becomes a striving for the realisation of the divine idea of humanity, not in the world beyond the present, but within the forms of its early manifestation, within the spheres of labour, of the family, of society, of the state, within the fulfilment of duty in man's common earthly calling. And thereby we Protestants have certainly recognised and preserved the abiding ideal truth of the ascetic utterances of Jesus and the New Testament; but, on the other hand, it is not to be disputed that we have thereby departed far from the proper original meaning of the ascetic supernaturalism of Jesus and of the primitive Christianity. This deviation, however, is not an arbitrary thing, but has been a necessary result of the providential development of Christianity itself.
It is only by giving to the historical testimonies regarding the preaching of Jesus altogether their full due, without prejudice or stint, that we can also understand its consequences. If Jesus had only taught an ideal morality, he would at most have founded a school of pure Jewish righteousness, not a new religion; but in that case he would hardly have evoked the passionate hostility of the worldly rulers, which brought destruction to himself but victory for his work. On the other hand, if he had only proclaimed the Apocalyptic dream of the near world-end and the dawn of the new world, he would have founded a sect of fanatics which would have perished in one of the numerous Messianic risings, without leaving a trace behind. But the combination of ethical idealism with Apocalyptic supernaturalism gave the possibility of a work which was as powerful as it was thorough and lasting. It awakened in the contemporaries of the time and people of Jesus the enthusiasm for a comprehensible Ideal that attracted their fancy, and banded them around the person of Jesus as the surety of its realisation; and thus they became receptive for the morally educative work of Jesus, and learned from him the significant new truth that the way to the heights of the kingdom of heaven passes through the depths of serving and suffering love. Jesus did not directly deny the Apocalyptic ideal of the future; but in showing in word and example a new way to its realisation, he indirectly put the abiding Christian truth in the place of the transient Jewish dream—the truth, namely, of a community of children of God united by the spirit of serving love and of world-overcoming trust in God. We may also perceive an advance in the education of the disciples, corresponding to the march of the experience of Jesus which undoubtedly brought about a ripening of his own knowledge.
At the beginning, in the days of the Galilean spring, the manner of the teaching of Jesus moves in the idyllic tone of cheerful childlike trust in the heavenly Father, in Him who cares for the lilies and the birds, and on whom we may cast all our cares. Then at the height of the Galilean ministry, the mystery of the kingdom—namely, that planted by the word in the hearts of men it grows gradually and quietly and constantly—is unveiled to the disciples in parables; and they are called blessed in that they were to experience that time of the dawning kingdom of God which had been longed for by the Fathers. But tasks of a new significant kind are also set up; they are to let their light shine before men, to preach from the house-tops before all the world what they have learned in quiet intercourse with their Master. And with the growing success among the multitude, who yet continued always to be wavering and unreliable, the distrust and contradiction of his opponents also increase: they complain about disregard of tradition, they accuse Jesus of being in alliance with Satan, they ask for miraculous signs from heaven — that is, for Messianic legitimation. Thereupon Jesus warns his disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees; he puts before them the choice of either standing with him against the authorities of the synagogue or standing with them against him. Then he takes them on an excursion which extended beyond the Galilean boundaries in order to rivet them firmer and firmer to himself by undisturbed confidential intercourse; and on this journey he puts the question to them, Whom they held him to be? and Peter answers for them all, “Thou art the Christ.” The conduct of Jesus on this occasion is noteworthy: whereas he had formerly commanded the disciples to preach the news of the kingdom from the house-tops, he now forbids them to tell their opinion of him to any man. Was it that perhaps to himself the thought that he was destined by God to be the Messiah (for this only could be the question at issue) was still so new, so dark and uncertain, that he was terrified by the open utterance of the words as by the profanation of a mystery? Or was it rather pedagogic wisdom and foresight that made him command the disciples to keep the dangerous word silent so long as they had not yet become aware of its true sense and pregnant meaning? However it be, at all events we see Jesus now taking a new important step in the education of the disciples: he shows them that upon the way of the Son of Man and of the coming kingdom of God sufferings and persecutions, shame and death, are inevitably to be expected, but that according to the divine decree these are only means for the final victory. It is true that we may undoubtedly entertain some not unfounded doubts as to the definite form of the prophecies regarding his suffering and resurrection, as the Gospels narrate them; but we can hardly doubt the fact, which is as natural as it is well attested, that Jesus after the close of the Galilean activity, when he was resolved to bring about the decision of his cause in Jerusalem, recognised the probability of grievous experiences, and sought to make his disciples also familiar with these thoughts: “I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division” (Luke xii. 49 ff.) Do we not discern in these words that they contain a knowledge which Jesus had not from the beginning, but which rather grew up in him for the first time in the school of bitter experience and undeceptions during the activity of his calling? He himself, as the Epistle to the Hebrews strikingly says, “learned obedience by the things he suffered”—that is to say, he learned to serve the divine will, not merely as a humble and meek teacher, but at last even as the suffering Servant of God who gives his life as an offering for the sins of his people (Isaiah x1ii. 53). “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark x. 45). This is the insight that there lies a victorious power in innocent suffering more even than in all active doing—nay, that it is the chief and unavoidable means for the victory of the good in this imperfect world. And this insight is the crowning close of the Gospel of Jesus, which began with the exhortations to unconditioned trust and obedience to the heavenly Father; for trust and obedience both undergo their ordeal of fire only through patience and fidelity under suffering.
The words of Jesus concerning the necessity and wholesomeness of suffering found indeed at first among the disciples but little understanding of their meaning. Such utterances contradicted too harshly their Jewish thoughts of the Messiah, and their lusting after dominion, for them to have found themselves at home in their significance. But when Jesus had sealed his words by his actual faithfulness even unto death, then did his death become the most powerful preaching of the Gospel. It became a revelation of Holy Love that lighted up the darkness of human destiny,—of a love according to whose decree, at all times, the Son of man must suffer in order to enter into His Glory.
- 1. Geschichte Jesu von Nazara, ii. 48.