Charles F. (Charles Fletcher) Dole.

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CERTAIN POSITIVE CONCLUSIONS 79

live nobly, while fearless of death. Our ideal
embraces both the Hebraic and the Classic type
in a larger pattern than either. This is a dif-
ferent ideal from that which the name of Jesus
represents. It is absolutely essential to teach
this ideal to our generation with freedom and
heartiness.

As a matter of fact the world of Christen-
dom has never taken Jesus' life seriously as a
possible life to pattern after. The world does
not now take it in earnest. "Ah," men say,
when Jesus is mentioned, "His life was out of
the common. It was supernatural. No one
else could do as he did; no one can be like him."
The words, the "leadership of Jesus" in certain
mottoes doubtless set before most people the
figure of a somewhat exalted personage, walk-
ing in advance and apart from the rest of the
world. Do our Sunday school children think
that Jesus ever smiled? He is mostly an un-
real man, with an unreal or quite exceptional
mission. This is unfortunate for the teaching
of the art of the good life as normal and glad-
some. People actually come to use the excep-
tional character of Jesus' life as an excuse



SO WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT JESUS

for doing nothing practical with his noblest
teachings !

More important yet, as we have already
shown, there are very naturally elements in
the story of the actual Jesus which appear seri-
ously misleading and even unethical in the light
of our best spiritual truth. Men call Jesus'
example difficult and "unpractical" on the side
of his faith, his sense of duty, his devotion,
his non-resistance, but they constantly cite his
frequent use of anger and denunciation. We
cannot afford any longer to let them quote that
unlovely passage about his driving out the
money-changers from the temple, whenever jus-
tification is wanted for bitter words, for a quar-
rel or a war. We cannot permit men to use
Jesus' mighty example for calling their fel-
lows hypocrites and "a generation of vipers";
we cannot let them quote his authority for buy-
ing swords. 2

Men have indeed often put a high use to the
question : "What would Jesus do?" as a mode
of guidance in problems of conduct. What

2 Luke xxii. 36. But compare the fine passage Matt, xxvi
52.



CERTAIN POSITIVE CONCLUSIONS 8 1

they really mean is what would the most per-
fect man do? They evidently cannot know
what the actual Jesus would have done for ex-
ample, with the problem of temperance in the
United States, or with the backward races, or
even with legislation upon the subject of di-
vorce. Each man proposes as Jesus' pre-
sumable answer the judgment of his own con-
science. The Italian Roman Catholic or
German Lutheran sees no moral difficulty in the
story that Jesus made wine out of water and
prescribed the perpetual use of wine in the
sacrament of the Eucharist. Millions of peo-
ple in America on the other hand see in wine
no longer the symbol of pure joy but of de-
grading temptation. Such considerations sug-
gest the absence of any express or infallible
ethical standard to which men may resort as to
an oracle and have an answer to their ques-
tions free of the costly discipline of thought, ex-
perience and sympathy. Is not this because
ethical and spiritual development, so far from
being based on a set of finite rules, is an end-
less process of movement toward the conception
of an infinite Good Will? The loss of per-



82 WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT JESUS

sonal acquaintance with the actual Jesus, — a
man who stands in the past, — is in fact the
facing about towards the noblest ideal of the
living God.

Meanwhile the need and the sense of per-
sonal companionship in the good life do not
depend at all upon the belief in Jesus as the only
perfect man. Who does not have the ideal
companionship of actual friends among the liv-
ing as well as among the departed? In other
words, we steady our consciences many a time
by asking: What would my father or my
mother, my wife or my friend do and say in
this emergency? This appeal of the imagina-
tion is as effective as it is to ask : What would
Jesus do?

It is often said that a religion must be per-
sonal. In other words, it must worship a
founder: its sentiment must cling around a
single object. There is a valid truth here. It
is the truth embodied in the faith that God in
some sense is a person and not an abstract
force. A vital religion conceives of a Life, an
Intelligence, a Good Will, with whom we can
come into unison, who may reverently be said



CERTAIN POSITIVE CONCLUSIONS 83

to care for or love us, in doing whose will we
have peace, satisfaction and gladness. In this
high sense, religion must be personal.

Religion is also made manifest through sym-
bols and through persons. But it is not true
that it is dependent upon a single symbol or
personal manifestation. Vast as the loss would
be if we could suppose the history of religion
to be blotted out to the beginning of the eigh-
teenth century, we surely could not therefore
lose religion. The fact is, there are many sym-
bols and numerous personal manifestations of
religion. It has been said that Jesus showed
both what God is like and what man may be.
We say a larger thing. The present genera-
tion has seen thousands of men and women
who have shown us what God is like and what
man may be. He is indeed poor who has not
known some such beautiful life. When there-
fore Jesus takes his natural place in the march-
ing ranks of mankind we have not lost a single
personal element from our religion. We be-
hold a great company of lovable, heroic and
admirable lives.

There is one great use of Jesus' life which



84 WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT JESUS

will perhaps always remain. In many respects
he stands as a familiar and notable type of
humanity. The old view of him as the single
Savior of the human race passes away as soon
as men cease to think of themselves as a
doomed, or "lost" race, that is, wherever the
modern evolutionary doctrine holds good of a
race in process of becoming. But there is a
continual need, no longer for a unique Savior,
but for innumerable helpers, saviors and lovers
of men. Jesus is doubtless the best known
name among this great and growing class.

Again, it seems to be a spiritual law that no
one can be a helper of his fellows, except
through obedience to a deep law of cost.
It matters little whether one dies or lives
for the sake of his fellows. He must in any
case give his life cheerfully in order to lift the
level of the common humanity. Jesus' case is
the typical instance of this great law of cost
and willingness. But we all have to obey it.
Every good mother knows it as well as Jesus.

I wish to leave the impression as strong as
possible that we have gained and not lost any-
thing, in this view of Jesus. Let me make my



CERTAIN POSITIVE CONCLUSIONS 85

meaning clear by a simple parable. A child
was once given a costly gem. It was wrapped
in many coverings and hidden away in a dark
closet so that he rarely could see it. He fond-
ly supposed that it was the only gem in the
world. At last a whole handful of beautiful
jewels were set before him. Is he poorer or
richer than before? Is he poorer because he
now knows more than ever about gems? He
does not even care in his joy at the variety of
beauty before him, which gem is the largest or
the most near mathematical perfectness in his
collection.

It remains to treat Jesus naturally, as we
treat all the benefactors of our race. With all
modesty, we do not range ourselves exclusively
as the disciples of any single great man, not of
Socrates or Plato in philosophy, not of Homer
or Dante in poetry, not of Michael Angelo or
Praxiteles in art, not of Beethoven or Wagner
in music, not of Newton or Bacon or Darwin
in science. We use and enjoy and admire
them all. We make all of them serve as object
lessons, each in his own way. Our wealth of
human interest and sympathy thus grows



86 WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT JESUS

larger. Marching in one grand procession,
they all and each of them stir us to practical
effort and valid hope, better than a single
unique, lonely, and unattainable Master, if such
there were, could ever stir us. There is a new
sense of a grand companionship to which we
all belong.

This natural view of Jesus is in line, as the
exclusive and exaggerated view of him is not
in line, with the whole trend of the democratic
thought of our age. To most men even yet
Jesus is the center and head of a monarchical
scheme of religion. It is easy to bow in church
and make a king of one who lived and died
twenty centuries ago. Such homage costs lit-
tle reflection and no effort of substantial good
will. The democratic ideal, on the other hand,
conceives of a host of men, all of one common
nature, all associated together as members of
one family, all needing both to help and to be
helped, to give and to take of each other, to
teach and to be taught, to inspire and to be in-
spired by every fresh act and word of friend-
liness and devotion. There is here no one
Master or Leader or Savior — like a king-cell



CERTAIN POSITIVE CONCLUSIONS 87

in the human body. There is reciprocity;
there is mutuality. If one has it in him to
show the structure and the gleam of the dia-
mond, all men also may show the same glint,
and enter into the same beautiful structure.
This alone is spiritual democracy.

The only objection to this view of Jesus' rel-
ative place in the world of men comes from the
side of the temporary hurt to our sentiment.
The same sentimental opposition was once
raised to a democratic government, free of any
sole figure of a king to revere, and about whom
to rally the nation. It has been found that
the sentiment of loyalty may be more mighty
and effective, as well as far more sane, among
the citizens of a republic than among the sub-
jects of an empire. It has been found that men
are abundantly willing to die for the sentiment
of a rational citizenship in a great republic.
Be sure that no sentiment which is good for
anything can be permanently harmed by facing
the light of day.

This view of Jesus' relation to human na-
ture is absolutely called for by the practical
purposes of ethical education. You cannot



88 WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT JESUS

easily make the life of Jesus interesting and
persuasive to the ordinary boy or youth.
There is too little usable incident. Throwing
out the wonder-stories, there is a fatal lack of
material to make into continuous lessons suf-
ficient for several years of Bible study. Bar-
ring exceptions and the work of teachers of
marked genius, the child's mind becomes weary
of the study of Jesus. The scenery is foreign
to him, and the moral and spiritual experiences
are remote. How many Sunday school teach-
ers have ever had such an acquaintance with
Jesus' life in any of its phases as to be able
to make young people acquainted with it?

Take your freedom now! Use Jesus just
as you would use any other grand figure of the
distant past, precisely as it happens to impress
you. Use it much or little, for your own help
or for the training of youth, just so far as it
commends itself to you as usable. Then add to
it, in democratic and natural fashion, all the
treasures of biographical material with which
our world is growing rich. Add the lives of
men and women who have impressed them-
selves upon our own generation, and have



CERTAIN POSITIVE CONCLUSIONS 89

helped to make human history nobler. Tell as
many stories from every source as you can, all
going to show the glory, the success, the happi-
ness, the health of the good life. Has not the
impulse come to you toward this life, almost
as if from the atmosphere you breathe? It is
doubtless the atmosphere of goodwill. See to
it that this atmosphere is around your youth
in the home, as well as in the church, or Sun-
day-school room.

Be sure that there is that in human life
which is greater than the greatest man. It is
the spirit of man, or rather the spirit of God.
Wherever the good spirit is there is God.
Wherever this spirit is in history, history
ceases to be profane and becomes sacred.
Wherever this spirit possesses men there is not
one son of God, but all are God's children.
Nothing less than this is the gospel for to-day.



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Online LibraryCharles F. (Charles Fletcher) DoleWhat we know about Jesus → online text (page 5 of 6)