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out. Because this was required and while it was
in process, the church was a necessity and will
continue to be until this process is completed.

Perhaps from this point of view we can get
a new conception of a tendency in the religious
life of our time which has caused apprehension
in many earnest souls, and perplexes when it does
not alarm. Onr attention is frequently directed
to the fact that in this age, v/hen tJie spirit of
Jesus seems to be dynamically present in human
society in an exceptional degree, when His ideal
of human relations seems to have an authority
over the hearts of men such as it never had be-
fore, the church seems to be losing prestige and
apparently occupies a smaller place in the af-
fections even of His followers. But is there not
at least a partial explanation of this tendency
which should be neither alarming nor discon-
certing to those who have grasped, however in-
adequately, the full program of Jesus? We owe
too much to the church of Christ ever to find
pleasure in the fact per se that it is losing in
power for any cause ; arid, if the present situation
indicated any decline in the spiritual energy
which created the church and uses it as an in-
strumentality, it surely would afford ample
grounds for the indulgence of a pessimistic mood.
But how far is this the cases If the church is



simply an instrumentality whose purpose is and
always should be the enthronement of the spirit
and ideals of Jesus in the whole social order, we
ought to be neither alarmed nor surprised that
in proportion as this purpose is accomplished the
sense of the need of the church should relatively
decline. Normally the sense of the value of the
instrument mil relatively decline as the end for
the accomplishment of which it exists approxi-
mates its fulfillment. And surely it does not re-
quire an extravagant optimism to believe that the
whole social order is to-day being influenced and
refashioned by the dynamic power of Christianity
as never before. It certainly seems to many ob-
servers that the fulfillment of the Kingdom is
approaching with extraordinary rapidity; and if
there should occur a relative decline in the sense
of the value and importance of the ecclesiastical
instrument, would it not be an unfortunate mis-
placing of emphasis to interpret such a relative
decline as a collapse of the program of Jesus!
Not long since an earnest and successful pastor
remarked, in a tone of mingled joy and sadness,
that **the Kingdom seems to be coming, but the
church does not.'' If the facts are as he stated,
his sadness was not unnatural, but was it wholly
justified? We cannot in religion guard too care-
fully against the tendency ever present in human
nature to feel that the instrument is an end in
itself, to exalt the institution above its function,
to substitute the means for the end in our aifec-



tion. Perhaps Christianity has suffered more
from this inversion of values than from any other
cause whatsoever. Certainly the church is not
now in the death-throes and can never disappear
so long as the Kingdom of God is not a fully
realized fact. But the wise friends of the church
would not mourn if it should suifer a relative
decline in importance due to the fact that the
Kingdom was more and more mastering, and ex-
pressing itself through, all the other institutions
of society. We cannot forecast a period of time
when the instrumentality of the church will not
be needed; and, though it may decline in relative
importance, it will not disappear so long as it
has a vital function to perform.

It would, however, be a capital mistake to sup-
pose that the present situation which brings sad-
ness to many hearts is wholly explained by the
foregoing consideration. That consideration cer-
tainly needs to be borne in mind, but it by no
means entirely removes all ground for anxiety.
The decline in the power of the church is espe-
cially notable in the great centers of population,
where the unrighteousness of the present social
order is most acutely felt; and it is due in part
to the fact that the church seems to be but dimly
conscious of its social mission. The church has
an opportunity for wliich there has been no paral-
lel in the past to be influential in bringing all
the economic and political activities of societ}^
under the sway of the motives of the Kingdom,



but it responds to that opportunity often by posi-
tively declining the undertaking as lying wholly
beyond its mission ; and when it acknowledges the
task as properly belonging to it, its efforts are
sluggish, feeble, hesitating, timid, blundering. It
does not have a clear understanding of its proper
work in the present crisis. It gropes and fumbles
and stumbles as if it were afflicted with a partial
paralysis wliich affects at once its nerve centres
of sight and hearing and locomotion. Never did
it more sorely need a clear understanding of the
nature of the Kingdom and of its function as
an instrument for realizing this ideal of Jesus.
Much of its activity is only remotely or inci-
dentally related, if related at all, to its supreme
task. Many a great church resembles a steam
engine which stands idly upon the rails or thun-
ders up and down the track but draws no train
of cars and is headed for no destination. In in-
numerable cases the trouble seems to be that the
church has unconsciously become an end unto it-
self and has lost, in part if not wholly, the sense
of its purely instrumental relation to the large
program of Jesus. TJie ine^dtable result is a
feebleness and incompetency w^hich invites the
neglect and sometimes the contempt of men, who
thereupon seek other social agencies by which
their ethical enthusiasm may be organized and
directed in the struggle for a righteous adjust-
ment of men to one another.

If misery loves company, however, the church


may be comforted to find itself in a goodly com-
pany of institutions which are undergoing the
same ordeal of criticism. All the great organs
of society find themselves assailed to-day and
thrown upon the defensive. Monarchy, legisla-
tures, courts of high and low degree, schools, eco-
nomic institutions of every sort, even the family,
are undergoing a searching examination prompted
by a profound discontent. Everywhere voices are
raised — some of them violently hostile in tone —
declaring that in and through these social or-
ganizations men are no longer rightly adjusted.
Some of these institutions are fighting for their
lives; others are making more or less successful
efforts to readapt themselves so as to do their
work more satisfactorily in the changed condi-
tions ; and it is not the church alone which, in some
cases, exhibits a blind reactionary spirit and, in
other cases, gropes confusedly in the midst of a
thicket of uncertainties. There may be a consola-
tion for the church in this reflection, since it
clearly indicates that it is not a sinner above other
institutions. Readaptation is demanded through-
out the whole sphere of organized life; and the
church should be not only consoled but inspired
by the consideration that such a situation is really
a result of the fermentation of the ideals of the
Kingdom in the hearts of the people.

What then, we ask in conclusion, is the true
definition of the Kingdom of God? It is a bold
thing to try to compress the meaning of this great



phrase into a narrow and rigid formula. Jesus
never attempted a succinct and logical statement
of its meaning, and in not doing so doubtless gave
e^ddence of His exceptional wisdom. The inter-
pretation of it has varied through the ages ac-
cording to variations in individual and collective
experience. Perhaps the experience of all the
ages will be needed in order to make definite to
our limited understanding the full content of its
significance. Its meaning seems to become vaster,
deeper wdth the lapse of time and the accumula-
tion of the social experience of mankind. It has
hung in the heaven of human thought as a great,
someAvhat nebulous but luminous, fascinating, al-
luring ideal, hovering above the border-line which
separates the present world-order from that which
lies beyond; inspiring and attracting earnest
souls, drawing them on to the ceaseless struggle
for righteousness and sustaining them in the
arduous conflict. To pack the meaning of this
great phrase into a single sentence is like trying
to focus all the light that floods the spaces of the
sky upon one tiny spot. But, nevertheless, it is
our duty to make its meaning as definite to our
minds as we can. And certainly whatever else
may be included in that meaning, it must signify
a social order, a system of human relations y pro-
gressively realized, in which the will of God is
the formative principle and all the functions of
which are organized and operated for the purpose
of helping all msn to realize the spiritual possi-



hilities of hiirnanity. Slowly, as measured by the
impatience of earnest souls, the world moves
toward that far-off goal, as our sun with its
retinue of planets is drawn by the persistent force
of gravitation toward a point in the distant con-
stellation of the Pleiades. But the important fact
is that the movement goes on, and the supreme
duty of every man is to help it forward; and at
the present hour there is no more effective help
to be given than to hasten the subjugation of all
the political and economic activities of society to
the law of ser^dce, which is the will of God.




The term ** world" bears several important
meanings, apart from its use to denote the tem-
poral order as distinguished from the eternal.
First, it means the mass of men — humanity con-
ceived as an aggregation of individuals. In this
sense the world is the object of God's love, as in
the famous passage, **God so loved the world,''
etc. In another use it means a social order — men
in their relations mth one another, as dominated
by certain ideals, customs, modes of life. It is
a more or less clearly defined social concept. For
instance, when Jesus speaks of His disciples as
those whom the Father had given Him "out of
the world;" or when He says of them, "They
are not of the world as I am not of the world,"
it is clear that He is using the word with some-
thing of a distinct social connotation. The same
meaning is perhaps even more distinct when, ad-
dressing His disciples. He says, "If the world
hate you, ye know it hated me before it hated you.
If ye were of the world the world would love
its own, but because ye are not of the world but I
have chosen you out of tlie world, therefore the
world hateth you." The same use of the word
occurs in John's Epistles. It signifies the tem-



poral order as distinguished from the eternal, but
the temporal order is thought of as social in char-
acter in a very definite way. The word is used
again with a quite indefinite or ambiguous mean-
ing. For example, * * the field is the world. ' ' Here
it evidently might well be taken in either of the
senses just noted. It is with the second meaning
that the word, world, mil be used in this chapter.
It is an interesting fact that among those who
report the words and works of Jesus it seems to
be John who, more than others, uses this word
with this signification. How can this be accounted
for? It is foreign to the purpose of this book to
enter into the critical questions as to the dates
and authorship of the books of the Bible. But
it seems to be a well established fact that the
Gospel of John was written at a later date than
the Synoptics. When this Gospel was written the
infant church had accumulated a considerable ex-
perience. In the propagation of the new religion
they had had numerous confhcts with the organ-
ized social forces of that time, and had suffered
much. Out of this experience there had grown
up an increasingly clear consciousness of those
organized forces as constituting an evil social
order. Although such a consciousness did not
originate in that experience, it was greatly empha-
sized and made more vi^dd and definite thereby.
The author of the Fourth Gospel, writing after
this consciousness of the world as an evil social
order had been clarified by experience, would



naturally recall sncli a use of tlie term by Jesus ;
or, on the hypothesis that this Gospel is not a
verbatim report of the teaching of Jesus, but
rather an interpretation of it with the particular
purpose of establishing His divinity, it seems cer-
tain that the term is used here to express an idea
that was present in that teaching. At any rate,
such a use of the word did grow more frequent
and definite in the later New Testament litera-
ture; and it seems eminently probable that its
increasingly definite use in this sense grew out
of the experience of the Christians.

At first one would expect that this growing
consciousness of the world as an evil social order
would lead the Christians to emphasize the mean-
ing of the Kingdom as a redeemed social order
standing in contrast over against the world. But
in John's Gospel this aspect of the Kingdom
seems, contrary to expectations, to receive less
emphasis than in the Synoptics; and some stu-
dents have even maintained that the Kingdom-
idea is entirely absent from John's thought. This
is an error, as we shall see ; but it is a fact that
he does not clearly develop in this Gospel what
we may call the objective social implications of
the Kinsrdom. Whv is this ? When we think more
deeply on the question, the reason appears. The
objective social structure — the political and eco-
nomic organs of society — were under the domina-
tion of a spirit quite opposed to the spirit of the
new Christian movement. The customs and ideals



of the world, so opposed to the life-principles of
the Kingdom, were acting through those institu-
tions and using them as instruments to annihilate
the little group that had been gathered around
Jesus. Jesus Himself, from whom they drew
their inspiration, had passed into the Unseen and
was with them in their struggle only as an in-
visible presence. They stood off thus in sharp
and irreconcilable opposition not only to the
world-spirit, but also to the entire social order,
all the functions of which were in the service of
that hostile spirit. Their strength laj^ wholly in
their spiritual communion with the invisible Lord
and their fellowsliip mth one another through
Him. Is it any wonder that John, who, of all the
New Testament writers, with the possible excep-
tion of Paul, was best fitted by nature to appre-
ciate the inner or subjective side of Christian ex-
perience and was writing in the midst of the
conditions just described, should dwell chiefly
upon the spiritual union of Christians with the
Lord and with one another! His emphasis on
the Kingdom as a subjective state and as a purely
spiritual organization was not only natural; it
was of the greatest practical utility for the prog-
ress of the Kingdom at that particular juncture.
Only thus could the struggling band of disciples
be strengthened and heartened for their great
struggle to wrest from the world-spirit the con-
trol of the social instruments through which the
collective life must express itself— the political



and economic organization of society. It was not
only indispensable then to emphasize the sub-
jective and purely spiritual aspects of the King-
dom; it always will be, for the Kingdom of God
in its full realization ^ill be, certainly in one of
its most important aspects, the working through
a transformed social order of the redeemed spir-
itual life of men.

It is a mistake, however, to claim that John
was wholly without perception or appreciation of
the social implications of the Kingdom. If he was
conscious of the world as an evil social order, he
also looked to the time when that order was to
be overthrown. In one of the notable passages
of his Gospel, he reports Jesus thus: **When he
[the Spirit of Truth] is come, he mil reprove
the world of sin and of righteousness and of judg-
ment ; of sin, because they believe not on me ; of
righteousness, because I go to the Father and ye
see me no more ; of judgment, because the Prince
of this world is judged. " Again he reports Jesus
as exclaiming while under the very shadow of the
cross, *^Be of good cheer, I have overcome the
world." It is only necessary to get the right
angle of vision to see in these words a forecast
of the disappearance of the unrighteous social
order of the world, and the establishment of the
Kingdom in its stead. Or, turn to Ms Epistles
and you find these words: ^^I^ove not the world,
neither the things that are in the world. If any
man love the world, the love of the Father is not



in him. For all that is in the world, the lust
of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride
of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
And the world passeth away and the lust thereof.
But he that doeth the mil of God abideth for-
ever.'' Is it not clear that in this passage the
^^ world" means not this terrestrial ball with its
mass of material things, but a system of life which
is shot through and through ^yit]l sensuality and
l^ride — an excellent description, in fact, of the
social life of the age in which John wrote ? And
is it not clear that he foresees its end? There
is, to be sure, no clear indication as to when or
where or how tliis overthrow of the social order
in which sensuality and pride reign is to take
place; but its passing away is clearly foretold.

However, as already stated, it was the sub-
jective, inward aspect of the Kingdom as a spir-
itual union of Christians with one another and
with God, which is explicit in this Gospel, while
its objective social aspect is rather intimated
than expressed.

We should be stepping beyond the limitations
set for this discussion to enter into a considera-
tion of the social implications of Paul's doctrine;
but it has been so frequently asserted of late that
Paul diverted the Christian movement from the
social aims of Jesus, that some words as to that
question may not be out of place in this connec-
tion. In Paul's writing is observable the same
increasing consciousness of the world as a definite



social order which has just been noted in the
Fourth Gospel, and the same alleged failure to
develop the social meaning of the Kingdom. On
the contrary, so it is said, he devoted himself to
the organization of churches and the elaboration
of theological doctrine, and so converted Chris-
tianity from a social propaganda into a dogmatic
ecclesiasticism. This is to make a whole error
of a fragmentary truth. True, Paul devoted his
energies to evangelization, to the organization of
the Christian communities into churches and the
intellectual correlation of Christianity with the
previous religious experience of mankind. But
in view of the situation then existing, these were
exactly the first and necessary steps to take in
the propagation of the Eangdom as a movement
which was ultimately to transform society. Only
thus could it be made a practical and effective
factor in the organized life of mankind. Could
the widely separated groups of early Christians,
who were extremely few in numbers and weak in
influence, without definite organization and with-
out any clear comprehension of the intellectual
content of their religion, have made any headway
against the vast intellectual and social system of
Grseco-Eoman life wliich it was their mission to
penetrate and transform with the principles of
the gospel? Those who think so should tell us
how it could have been done. The Kingdom as
a detached, floating ideal could hardly have ac-
complished its task for the world. The world was



a very compact organization of material and
mental forces on a moral basis of self-seeking, and
over against it tlie forces of the Kingdom needed
definite organization. That to Paul chiefly this
task of developing the organization was com-
mitted was no reflection upon the adequacy mth
which the more fundamental task of Jesus was
performed, under whose immediate supervision
that organization had assumed only germinal
form. The only question is whether mthin that
organization he embodied the principles of Jesus.
To pursue that question would lead too far afield
from the purpose of this book; but attention
should be called to the fact that Paul, in the
famous passage in which lie draws the analogy
between the relations of the organs of the human
body and the constitution of the Christian com-
munity, has given the most striking and perfect
picture of a social organization according to the
principles of Jesus which can be found in all
literature. No one has presented any con\dncing
e\T.dence that there is in his doctrine any es-
sential divergence from the principles of Jesus.
Troeltsch is right when he affirms that in the
teaching of Paul ^^the essential marks of the
ethic of the Gospel remained, but as the etliic
of an organized religious community received a
new shading.'' If Paul performed his allotted
task of organizing the intellectual and social life
of the Christian communities in line with the
fundamental ideas of Jesus, it is futile to main-



tain tha^ he divorted the movement from the cen-
tral purpose of Jesus. Those fundamental ideas
needed first to be embodied in the organization
of the Christian communities themselves before
they could begin to embody themselves in a trans-
formed social order of mankind. The question is
not when or how Paul expected the Kingdom to
be established, but what sort of social order would
its principles, as he enunciated them, inevitably
create when embodied in the lives of the people.
The alleged diversion did take place. It was not,
liowever, accomplished by Paul, but by those wiio
came after him.

Before proceeding to discuss the relations of
the Kingdom to the world in detail, it would be
well for us to go into a somewhat more careful
analysis of the nature of social relations in gen-
eral. Such an analysis wdll disclose the fact that
all social relations are in ultimate reality psy-
chical. For illustration, let us examine a par-
ticular social structure w^hich is as far as pos-
sible removed from the *^ spiritual'' type — say,
a business corporation, a railroad company. Man-
ifestly this corporation does not consist of the iron
tracks, rolling stock, and accessory buildings. It
is a definite group of persons in certain relations
with one another. And these relations in their
ultimate reality are not physical. The corpora-
tion is not an aggregation of human bodies;
though it controls in fact the activities of a num-
ber of bodies. In its essential reality it is a sys-



tern of psychical relations. It is a number of
minds, wills, hearts in definite and relatively per-
manent attitudes toward one another, reacting
upon one another in definite and regular ways,
together constituting a complex unity, and
through the physical energies which they control
and correlate, transporting men and things from
place to place. Structurally it is a system of
psychical relations. If we think of it function-
ally, two things are apparent. First, it is phys-
ically conditioned in its activity. That is, the
interaction between the several units composing
the system as well as the action of the system as
a whole must take place through certain physical
media, human bodies and the natural forces they
control. Second, and more important, each mind
is dominated or impelled in its interaction with the
other minds constituting the sytem by certain feel-
ings or motives; and the whole system in its re-
lations wdth society at large is dominated and
impelled by certain desires and purposes, and
judges the activity of each of its members by his
loyalty and efficiency in working to these ends.
In its structure, then, it is essentially a psychical
system ; in its acti^dty it is controlled by an ethical
ideal which determines its standards and modes
of action.

What is true in this respect of this corporate

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Online LibraryCharles Spurgeon GardnerThe ethics of Jesus and social progress → online text (page 5 of 21)