Page images
PDF
EPUB

It was His incomplete knowledge of the law which was in this point the cause of an entire deception on the part of Jesus. He took from the law only that which harmonized with His views, and so overlooked the fact that His opponents, too, had the law on their side, and that with far greater right. Pharisaism is a product of the religion of the law. There is an unbroken line of descent from Ezekiel through the code of the priests to the Talmud. The separation of sacred and profane, the preference for the ceremonial, the importance attached to that which was morally indifferent, the spirit of exclusiveness, the national fanaticism, were all rooted in the law. The law implied the supremacy of the Jewish idea, the petrification of true religion, deadly enmity to the prophetic spirit. The law necessitated the existence of the Scribes, the murderers of Jesus. But all this Jesus concealed from Himself throughout His life on earth. He separated the human, the non-Jewish element, from the rest of the law, gave Jewish maxims an entirely contrary meaning, deepened and combined all that was limited and transitory. Jesus' attitude to the root principle of the law was entirely negative. St Paul was right when, in opposition to the disciples themselves, he called Jesus the end of the law.

Jesus, therefore, stands to the law as He did to the conception of the Messiah and of the kingdom of God. He

He employs the old words throughout, and that bona fide. He thinks that He is their true interpreter, and discards just that which is characteristic and Jewish from their contents. And yet in this very self-deception the great essential feature of His character betrays itself. He would be positive. He would build up. He would not destroy. The converse of Jesus' positive attitude towards the law is His uncompromising rejection of Pharisaism. It is so unsparing, so entirely without any exception, that the very name of Pharisee has become a term of abuse for all ages. Jesus did not, however, begin the battle. The Pharisees drove Him into it by constantly waylaying Him and spying upon Him. Then their vulgar self-advertisement and their prostitution of piety greatly stirred His indignation. Finally, the whole tendency seemed to Him nothing but hypocrisy.

The aim of the Pharisees was to establish a definite ideal of piety among the people. Jesus sets up His own—which is related to it in all points as yea to nay--in opposition.

It is not the things without in the world that are clean or unclean, it is the human heart within. This inner habitation must be set in order by the sweeping out of evil thoughts.

All that is without belongs to God, and we have power over it. God takes 'no special pleasure in works of supererogation such as the offering of sacrifices, tithes, going on pilgrimages and fasting, but He looks for the weightier matters in the law, righteousness and truth and love. Man is to serve Him in his daily life. That alone is the true divine service.

Man's end is not a sanctity which withdraws itself timidly from this wicked world, but love. This love goes out in search of them that have gone astray and have become estranged, for they are our brothers,

and casts down all the barriers that sanctity erects. A Samaritan that practises love is dearer to God and to man than a priest and a Levite with all their zeal for holiness. In opposition to the perverted sanctification of the Sabbath, Jesus says there is no alternative: either save souls and do good, or do evil and destroy souls.

That was an opposition which went right down to the root of things : it was a reversal of all values. The demand that Jesus made was certainly not one whit less exacting than that of the Pharisees. Nay, it was more severe, for it embraced the whole of life and made every evasion impossible. Jesus banished sophistry and hypocrisy, and restored conscience and reality to their rights. He exiled religious selfesteem and self-conceit, and brought back love and humanity. He set up a religion of morality as against one of ceremony.

Above all, this struggle reveals the great reforming element in the demand of Jesus. He will have the sanctification of life in the world, the sanctification of one's calling, one's everyday life, one's work within the limits of human society. All the demands that Jesus makes are set up, not for monks and ascetics, but for men in the world. Here is the battlefield, here the preparation for eternity. Hereby every form of pietism is condemned. Conscientiousness, love, trust in God—these constitute religion.

The relation of Jesus to Jewish ethics as a whole can now be considered. The result is a surprising one. Jesus eliminated the Jewish and retained the human. The sum of His commandments is addressed to the man in the Jew and to man in general.

It is true that Jesus does not declare the principle in so many words, “Gentiles can be saved just as well as Jews.” As a matter of fact His dealings are with Israel alone. But what sayings He utters are for all the world to hear. Love makes the Samaritan better pleasing to God and man than the unloving priest and Levite. The publican who simply and humbly comes into God's presence receives God's pardon sooner than the boastful Pharisee. The Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba will be the victors over Israel in the day of judgment. Even now there are heathen here and there whose great faith puts the Israelites to shame and makes its way up to God. All depends upon the doing of the commandments, upon the fruits and upon nothing else. And here we have the abrogation of the Jewish system of ethics, of the Jewish Church, nay, of every

Church whatever. As soon as man examines himself in the presence of God and eternity, he recognizes that everything that is particular and separate is without permanence.

This discovery of the eternal in man was possible for Jesus, because His aim was not to set up certain detailed laws, but inner principles, capable of endless

, application and adaptation. It was only for marriage that Jesus laid down a definite law, and this indicates the ideal. So St Paul already understood Jesus' words, for he approves of divorce in certain definite

With this exception Jesus did not legislate on any particular point. Conscience is by its nature an individual matter. Jesus awakened it, but left it untrammelled. There is nothing less cabined and confined than love, nothing more delicate; and trust in God is of man's inmost nature. In many cases the legal appearance of some of Jesus' words can be traced to the efforts of the early Church to codify the Master's sayings. Jesus asked only for such things as are matters of course, which every man's conscience sanctions, and that is why He gave no reasons for His demands.

cases.

Ecclesiastical dogmas need, to be sure, to be buttressed by arguments; for the understanding of the Sermon on the Mount they are superfluous.

There remains, however, an apparent contradiction. What is the relation between the eternal contents of the demand of Jesus and its eschatological foundation? Jesus' commandments were to prepare the way for the approaching judgment and kingdom of God, their aim was future blessedness. In the background of all lies the alternative of the two roads, the prospect of heaven or hell. And is this demand to be for ever valid in spite of this ? Not in spite of, but because of this, Jesus appeared with His eschatological messages--that is to say, with the announcement that eternity was near at hand. His demand is that man should prepare to meet eternity, and fit himself to live in it. But he can only do that if the eternal within him is endowed with power and with victory. The approach of eternity awakened in Jesus the recognition of all that is essential, of all that endures in the sight of God. Jesus was able to lay the foundation of the religion that was to last for ever, just because He was the prophet of the judgment that was to come. And even though later on the eschatological drama receded ever further into the background, and this earth and the present raised

« PreviousContinue »