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Jesus' idea; a study of the real Jesus online

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"But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Ghost is come
upon you, and we shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and
in all Judea, and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the
earth" (Acts 1:8). Other references might be cited, but
these will suffice to show that the Kingdom in Jesus' thought
was unlimited territorially and racially. While a precedence
was accorded to the Jews, the restriction, as had been the in-
tention with Israel of old, was but the prelude to universalism.

This is not all, however. All social barriers also were to
fall before the Kingdom. This the Jews simply could not
understand. Caste held high carnival among them. While



154 Jesus' Idea

the nation as a whole was the aristocracy of God, the Phari-
sees were an aristocracy within an aristocracy. The Jews, in-
deed, floundered perpetually among fallacious distinctions, ever
drawing the cords where they ought not, and failing to tighten
them where they ought. The Kingdom of God, however, as
it was presented by Jesus, repudiated this conventionality
totally. It was not intended alone for those esteeming them-
selves the "unco guid" or the "rigidly righteous" : all humanity
could enter its portals. The door was open wide. Indeed,
when the Kingdom graciously received Levi, the publican,
Magdalene the harlot, and the dying thief, the death of class
distinctions and prejudices was signified so far as the Kingdom
of God was concerned. This fact is astounding, not only in its
indication of the universality of the Kingdom, but from the
unmistakable hint which Jesus gave, that among the outcast
and the fallen the Kingdom would find its most propitious soil,
and reap its richest harvest. Why Jesus regarded such per-
sons as the more propitious soil is seen in St. Luke 7 136-48, and
especially in the words: "Her sins, which are many, are
forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven,
the same loveth little"

Jesus, indeed, always manifested keen interest in the un-
desirable classes. In Matthew's house. He seems to have
attended a feast of publicans and sinners, which was arranged
especially that He might meet with them (St. Lu. 5:29).
His conduct in this respect often gave rise to scandal. The
questionable "respectability" and "orthodoxy" of the day anx-
iously inquired, "How is it that he eateth and drinketh with
sinners?" (St. Mk. 2:15-17), and contemptuously denominated
Him "the friend of publicans and sinners," and "a wine-bibber
and a glutton." Happily, however, for truth's sake, Jesus
treated the current conventionality with supreme disdain. Yet
there was nothing of narrowness in His sympathies. He
dined with the influential Pharisee (St. Lu. 7:37) upon invita-
tion, as readily as with the publican, showing that if He had no
prejudice against the outcast, He entertained no demagogic
hatred of the rich and well-to-do.^

^The distinctness with which Jesus taught the removal of all
social barriers to entrance into the Kingdom is fully revealed in the
parable and discourse recorded in St. Luke 14:12-24.



The Extent of the Kingdom 155

Our conclusion as to the universality of the Kingdom has
now been reached after consideration of the explicit teaching of
Jesus. It is equally evident, however, in His implicit teach-
ing. A priori reasoning here is as effective as a posteriori
reasoning. The universality of the Kingdom inheres, indeed,
in the nature of both God and man. One great outstanding
fact of Jesus' teaching is the Fatherhood of God. In common
with mankind He believed in God, although His idea of God
was not the common idea of His age, nor is it the popular idea
to-day. Indeed, the immense superiority of Jesus' conception
is only realized when contrasted with the conceptions of His
contemporaries. While the intelligence of Rome was divided
in allegiance between atheism and pantheism, which alike repre-
sented violent reactions from unworthy ideas of Deity, the
populace mocked the rites of their ancestral religion, and
attributed to the Gods the licentiousness and vulgar atnours
of men. Out of this hideous confusion arose the tendency to
deify the emperors — the most potent representatives of power
then within the ken of man. Thus was Augustus deified by
decree of the Roman Senate. The worship of the Emperor, in-
deed, soon became the universal worship of the Empire. Tem-
ples, with statues of the new-found God, were erected in Gaul,
Spain, Africa, Egj'pt, Palestine and Greece, where, through
priesthoods and an elaborate cultus, subjects paid divine honors
to the God of the world. Yet this God himself might be the
victim of a superstition as base as that which compelled Tiberius
at the sound of thunder, to seek refuge in a crown of laurel
because "it was denied that this kind of leaf was ever touched
by lightning," or which saw a mighty Caesar, flushed with vic-
tory, pitiably repeating a magical formula against a feared
Nemesis, upon entering his chariot. The background offered
for Jesus' idea of God by the Gentile world was dark indeed.

The solitary oasis in this desert of infidelity and supersti-
tion was found among the most abject of peoples and despised
of races. The Jew in Palestine and in the little Synagogue
which soon appeared wherever he had gone voluntarily, or had
been carried a captive, notwithstanding the excrescences of
Pharisaism and Sadduceeism, presented to the world in the
translucent pages of his Scriptures the idea of a God who was
primarily One and a Person; so august as to defy representa-



156 Jesus' Idea

tion; Omnipotent and Omniscient; Eternal, and in nature of
Transcendent Purity, the inveterate enemy of sin ; who had
selected a solitary nation of the earth to represent Him to the
peoples of the earth. Such, in brief, was the Jewish idea of
God. Now all that was true in the Jewish conception, Jesus
borrowed, and upon it reared the imposing superstructure of
His own idea. It was His distinctive contribution, however,
which gave to the idea a conquering power, never possible to
the Jewish conception. This contribution may be summed up
in the words, "God is Father/' And to understand the meaning
of this we must interpret it as, "God is Love."

The Jews recognized the Fatherhood of God chiefly in two
distinct senses. He was a Father in the sense of Creator or
Progenitor. He was also a Father in that He was interested
in, and loved Israel, and, in later times, especially her King.
This conception, however, fell far short of the splendid view
entertained by Jesus. In His thought, God w^as not only the
Infinite Creator, but the Infinite Father who was keenly con-
cerned about all creation and full of love for all things. With
Jesus, this passionate regard of God extended to even the small-
est things: the grass of the fields, the birds of the air. "Be-
hold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they
reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth
them" (St. Mt. 6:26; cf. 28, 30 vs.).^ If God's solicitude for
the trivial is so manifest, we may expect a most pronounced
regard for Man. "Are ye not much better than they?" asks
Jesus, in fact, of the disciples after describing God's love for
the fowls of the air (St. Mt. 6:26). It was formerly de-
bated with much heat whether God was the Father of all men
in the sense of love, or only of Christians, i.e., of those who
recognized their sonship and obeyed the Father. How this
question could arise, it is difficult to understand in view of
Jesus' teaching. That God is the Universal Father is, indeed,
an axiom of His revelation. Yet that this Fatherhood does not
mean the same thing to all men is also an integral part of
His truth, as the late Professor Bruce so admirably points out

^ Science, to-day, as it follows the footsteps of the Creator, and
unfolds more and more the methods of His thoughtful providence,
is furnishing- data of invaluable assistance in justly appreciating
^his teaching of Jesus.



The Extent of the Kingdom 157

in his book, "The Kingdom of God." An earthly father, in
fact, finds the fulfilment of his fatherhood conditioned in many
ways by the bearing of his son. The full love of the parent
can only be bestowed upon a child who in turn reciprocates the
parental affection. Dutiful sonship is a necessity to perfect
Fatherhood. Hence God, although the Father of all men, can-
not be a Father to the evil and to the righteous in the same
degree.

Professor Bruce notes, however, that the Fatherhood of God
toward all men expends itself along two distinct yet related
lines of affection — regard for both the temporal and the spirit-
ual needs of man. His careful providence for the temporal
necessities of the sinner is indicated by Jesus in St. Matthew
5 : 45 : "He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good,
and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." The perfec-
tion of the Deity itself is illustrated in the blessing bestowed
upon those who curse Him. The solicitude of God over the
spiritual condition of the sinful man is the preeminent thought
of the exquisite parables recorded in the fifteenth chapter of
St. Luke, — verily a miniature Gospel in themselves. The bur-
den of these parables — the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the
Lost Son — may be expressed in the words of St. Matthew
18: 14: "Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in
heaven, that one of these little ones should perish." Sin, though
it be as black as Hell itself, and as malodorous, cannot sepa-
rate the erring child from the affection of the Heavenly Parent.
He seeks the lost, and looks again and again for the return
of the wanderer. The conduct of Our Lord also reveals the
affection of the Father-God, no less than His w^ords. Were
we deprived of the latter, we could draw a just inference as
to the universal Fatherhood of God from the graciousness of
Jesus' bearing. His insight, and His sympathy.^

^ To a dastardly violation of the shepherding quality inherent in
true religion, we owe the teaching of the Master about "The Goo4
Shepherd." Incensed because a former blind man had come to
believe in the divine power of the restorer of his sight, the
Pharisees proceeded forthwith to excommunicate him. Jesus, hear-
ing of their action, sought for the poor fellow, and comforted him
with the knowledge that He alone was the door through which
men could enter into eternal life; while He unsparingly condemned
the ignorance of those who, instead of seeking the spiritual welfare



158 Jesus^ Idea

The care of God for the temporal needs of the saints, or
children of the Kingdom, Jesus sets forth at length in a passage
which we have already considered. Perhaps it would be well to
quote it, however. Even long familiarity with it has not im-
pressed its meaning upon Christian thought. "Therefore take
no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we
drink? or. Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (for after all these
things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father know-
eth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first
the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things
shall be added unto you" (St. Mt. 6:31-33). Here, indeed,
as we have seen, is the absolute promise that if any person will
make the sovereignty of God the sole aim in life, God will at-
tend to it that food, drink, and raiment are had in abundance.
Finally, the devotion of the Father to the spiritual needs of the
child of the Kingdom is best seen in the gift of the Holy Spirit —
the Infinite Spirit coming into touch with the finite spirit of
man, refreshing, guiding, developing. But more of this anon.^

In view of this revelation of the character of God, we see
that the Kingdom of God must be universal in aim. The God
of Jesus could be satisfied with nothing else. The universality
of the Kingdom, however, is as inherent in the nature of man

of the man, turned him adrift. To this procedure, Jesus opposed
Himself as "The Door and The Good Shepherd" (St. John 9:10).
^ That God would not always appear even to spiritual insight as a
Father, Jesus well knew. He adverts to the fact in the suggestive
parables of "The Selfish Neighbor" and "The Unjust Judge" (St.
Lu. 11:5-13; 18:1-5). These parables, however, do not in the least
impugn the Fatherhood of God. They only represent the manner
in which God seems to act at times. Why the Deity permits this
impression, no man can tell. Christianity does not answer wholly
all the questions in heaven and earth, yet it does throw all needful
light upon them. Of course, the truthfulness of this idea of God
may be denied, yet it is evident that Jesus claimed to give an
authoritative revelation. "No man knows the Son, but the Father;
neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whom-
soever the Son zvill reveal him" (St. Mt. 11:27). Again: "Jesus
saith unto him, Have I been so long with you, and yet hast thou
not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father;
and how sayest thou then. Shew us the Father? Believcst thou
not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words
that I speak unto you I speak not of myself : but the Father that
dwelleth in me, he doeth the works" (St. John 14:9-10).



The Extent of the Kingdom 159

as in the character of God.

Jesus of Nazareth, indeed, had the ability to see things in
their just proportion. While the world of His day measured
the value of man by some accident of birth, genius, power,
wealth or station, fastening its gaze upon the extroardinary and
the exceptional, Jesus measured the value of man simply by the
gift of beinffj affixing His attention upon the ordinary and the
general.^ In the thought of Jesus, every man was made in the
image of God. Nothing more was needed to dignify his na-
ture; nothing additional could dignify his nature. Although
stripped of every accident of existence, and as naked as naked-
ness itself, man was yet richly clothed with the habiliments of
Deity. Each individual was accordingly of immense value.

Proof of this is easily forthcoming. ''What shall it profit
a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
or, as St. Luke says, "his own self?" "Or what shall a man give
in exchange for his soul?" (St. Mk. 8: 36-37; St. Mt. 16: 26;
St. Lu. 9: 25). Here the whole world is weighed in the bal-
ances against a single human soul, and is found wanting. Con-
sider again the passage quoted above, and its context. "Even so
it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one
of these little ones should perish" (St. Mt. 18: 14). Man's
value is also apparent in such sayings as these : "The very hairs
of your head are all numbered;" "Ye are of more value than
many sparrows;" "How much then is a man better than a
sheep?" (St. Mt. 10:30; 12:12). Especially important is
the declaration of Our Lord, found in St. Matthew 5:29-30:
"If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from
thee : for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should
perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from
thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should
perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell"
(cf. St. Mt. 18:8-9; St. Mk. 9:43-47; St. Lu. 12: 13-21).

This passage is not to be understood literally, of course.
The language is highly figurative, yet the more forceful because

^The Hebrews offered the only apparent exception to this rule.
Every Hebrew was honored by virtue of his birthright. Yet, as
has been shown repeatedly, "It was Hebrew nature, rather than
human nature, which even to him possessed intrinsic grandeur.'*



i6o Jesus^ Idea

figurative. The right eye and hand represent what is most
valuable and useful. The words "offend thee" really mean
"cause thee to stumble." The idea is that some one is walking
in the path of rectitude, when suddenly something causes the
person to stumble in his path, and fall into wickedness. "Pluck
it out," "cut it off" and "cast it from thee" are expressions of
decided action, and call emphatically for the removal of the
cause of the stumbling. To interpret this language literally
would be to obey the letter of the law, and to ignore the spirit.
Suppose, however, for the sake of argument that we could have
an eyeless, footless, and handless humanity, would it be a sinless
humanity? Would not the heart still remain? And is it not
out of the heart that the issues of life and death proceed? The
organs and the senses of the body are indeed God-given, legiti-
mate, valuable and useful. Yet they may become the organs
of guilt, "the inlets of temptation, the outlets of surrender."

It is only when we interpret this saying of Jesus' as a fig-
ure of speech that its significance really dawns upon us. The
eye means the thing seen, the hand, the thing done; together
they represent perhaps the active and the passive sides of our
nature. And Jesus' thought is that whenever anything that
we see or do causes us to sin, it is to be summarily renounced.
This is not that hideous caricature of Christianity which calls
itself asceticism, but simply the necessary renunciation of self
which inheres in all true religion. It is the Cross which wins
the Crown. And this willingness to suffer dire loss is profitable
because it ministers to man's eternal gain. Our minds are likely
to consider only the present; Jesus considers both the present
and the future. Eternity is longer than time. Present loss is
set over against future gain. Jesus is appealing for the interests
of the higher life. Self-indulgence means self-destruction.
Hence the emphatic declaration of the passage: "Partial loss
in this world rather than total loss in the next." Could lan-
guage more forcibly indicate the value of each human soul?

Such teaching and conduct, as we have described, bring
forcibly to light Jesus' interest in man simply as man. Riches,
station, religion, and even sin, were not considered primary
factors in determining individual worth. There was a value
and an importance attached to man simply as man. Human
society is undoubtedly a heterogeneous mass, and embraces "all



The Extent of the Kingdom i6i

sorts and conditions of men." But, in the thought of Jesus,
the unifying bond is manhood. The average person to-day —
even the average Christian, we fear — notes and dwells upon the
rank and the grades which separate men. His whole view of
life, and his conduct are conditioned by these. Jesus, how^ever,
let us remember, dwelt solely upon the common manhood which
unites men. He was the Incarnation of the Democratic Spirit.
With Him, in fact, this spirit was born into the world with
power, and through Him it is transforming the world. His,
indeed, was the catholicity of the very sympathies of God. This
is the more remarkable when we consider (humanly speaking)
the lowliness of His birth, and the character of His early
environment — the carpenter shop of obscure Nazareth. While
such surroundings would usually beget sympathy with the
lowly, they would also mean distrust, suspicion, and dislike of
the more favored classes. This, however, was not true of
Jesus. Even His bitterest enemies recognized that He was "no
respecter of persons." High and low, rich and poor, reputable
and disreputable, were treated alike by Him, and all simply
as men. The Church's failure — not theoretical, but practical —
to imitate the Master in this has been a most important factor
in the present alienation of the masses. When the Church
shall follow the example of Jesus, the common people will
hear it gladly, as they heard the Master of old. When the
clergy, indeed, show no greater respect for the rich than the
poor, the great than the humble, for the ecclesiastical dignitary,
gowned, hooded, bedecked and bedizzened, than for the poorly
dressed laboring man, and shall occupy the lofty and impreg-
nable position of Jesus, from which they treat all men with
that high respect due to man, even if partiality must be shown,
reverencing more highly the laborer than the dignitary, if his
manhood be of a nobler type, then will the world believe in
the Christianity of the Church, for it will recognize the Chris-
tianity of Christ. His great assumption was that the dignity
of manhood — the gift of God — was infinitely greater than any
earthly dignity, religious or secular — the gift of men. This,
at least, was the pure democracy of Jesus. To the eternal shame
of the Church, be it said, it is not even in reasonable measure
the democracy of the Church.

Jesus' idea, indeed, of the essential value of human nature



1 62 Jesus' Idea

in itself, when stripped of all superadded honors, gifts, and dig-
nities, has always amazed mankind. Indeed, to esteem "a no-
body" is ever an offense in the eyes of a Pharisaic w^orld. But
when honor and esteem are persisted in toward those who are
stripped of even naked respectability, and clothed with the igno-
miny of evil living, humanity's confusion becomes worse con-
founded. The degraded, the fallen, the outcast however, as
we have seen, were the objects of Jesus' pity and love. His
regard for them is fully revealed in the parables of the Lost
Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son. Here we see that
those whom the Pharisees thought a rubbish pile ready for
ignition, Jesus regarded as a rich harvest to be reaped. Indeed,
their very condition made a tremendous appeal to Him. In
the Lost Sheep, for instance, He sees the folly and the helpless-
ness of the lost soul; in the Lost Coin, the utter uselessness of
the most useful of all things — money, when lost, is made to
reveal the absolute waste of the lost life; while in the exquisite
story of the Lost Son — an optimistic biography of a sinner —
Jesus discloses the self-conscious misery and degradation of the
lost being. To Jesus, indeed, humanity was splendid, though
in ruins.

The surpassing value of human nature, however, has been
shown in the preceding pages also in that Jesus regarded it
as the congenial soil for the Kingdom of God. He regarded
man as the possessor of both a moral and an intellectual na-
ture, which was responsive to the deepest spiritual truths of
God. His conduct toward man always proceeded upon the
presupposition so beautifully expressed by Browning;



**But friends,
Truth is within ourselves ; it takes no rise
From outward things, whate'er you may believe
There is an inmost centre in us all,
Where truth abides in fulness ; and around
Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
This perfect, clear perception — which is truth ;
A baffling and perverting carnal mesh
Blinds it and makes all error; and 'to know.'
Rather consists in opening out a way
Whence the imprisoned splendor may escape,
Than in effecting entrance for a light
Supposed to be without."



The Extent of the Khigdom 163

Preeminently, however, is Jesus' idea of the dignity of
man seen in His unequivocal belief in man's immortality. He
said little about this, it is true. It is, nevertheless, like His
belief in God, an axiomatic truth of His teaching. There w^as
no need for special stress upon the subject, for His countrymen
believed in the truth — all, indeed, except the Sadducean w^orld-
lings — thus offering a striking contrast to the great Gentile
world, in which there was such patent disbelief, or painful
uncertainty with regard to the life after death. Even a Herod,
aroused by the increasing reputation of Jesus, spoke of Him
as John the Baptist risen from the dead. On one occasion,
however, our Lord did express Himself unequivocally. The
Sadducees, seeking to discredit the popular belief in immor-
tality, ask Him, if a woman shall have been married seven
times, to whom shall she belong after the resurrection. Jesus'
reply is convincing: **And Jesus answering said unto them,
Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures,
neither the power of God? For when they shall rise from
the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but
are as the angels which are in heaven. And as touching the
dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses,
how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God
of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He
is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye there-
fore do greatly err" (St. Mk. 12:24-28).

This reply at once rebukes incredulity as to the power of
God, and declares that God is not the God of the dead, but of
the living J clearly implying that all live unto Him. The un-
belief, indeed, which hesitates to accept a future life for man


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