Copyright
Hastings Rashdall.

Conscience & Christ : six lectures on Christian ethics online

. (page 11 of 23)
Online LibraryHastings RashdallConscience & Christ : six lectures on Christian ethics → online text (page 11 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


^ The word " impartial " carries with it the implication that
Benevolence is to be combined with Justice. Justice requires tliat
each individual should be treated according to his real value. That
every soul of man has real value was a prominent feature of the
teaching of Jesus. The relations between Justice and Benevo-
lence arc fully dealt with in my Theory of Good and Evil, Bk. I,
chap. viii.

134



Objections to the Moral Teaching of Christ 135

of this one fundamental principle. No ethical teach-
ing that did limit itself to abstract generalities of this
kind could possibly have produced a powerful influence
on human souls and human lives. The moral teacher
must be concrete : he must go into details of conduct.
No teaching was ever more concrete than that of
Christ. In a sense no teaching was more detailed or
more practical. The parable of the good Samaritan
embodies a principle, but at the same time it suggests
an immediately practicable and very definite duty.
Much of Christ's teaching — indeed much of the teach-
ing which has most influenced the world — relates not
to detailed questions about the content of duty,
questions as to what particular things are right and
wrong, but to the supreme importance of goodness in
general. And the teaching of universal love would
have been very cold and unpersuasive apart from the
particular applications and interpretations which He
gave to it. Indeed, the doctrine of universal love or
universal Benevolence may lead in practice to totally
different kinds of conduct according to the way in
which it is interpreted. For what does Love mean ?
It means surely desiring to promote the true good of
another person, treating that other person's good as
an end of no less intrinsic importance than one's own
good. The precept, therefore, " promote thy neigh-
bour's good " gives us no information until we know
wherein consists this true good of one's neighbour.
And again the practical rules of conduct to which this



136 Conscience and Christ

principle leads will become very different according to
the view we take as to the means by which this true
good is to be promoted. It is chiefly to the detailed
rules of conduct — to the conception which our Lord's
teaching exhibits of human good and to the detailed
rules of conduct for promoting it, and not to the
general principle of love to mankind — that exception
is taken by people whose moral ideal is not that of
mere selfishness. Such persons often admit the
enormous and beneficent moral revolution introduced
by that teaching, but it seems to them too much marred
by the limitations of a race and a period to be treated
as containing in any sense a full or final body of
ethical teaching suited for all races and all times.
To deal with these objections will be the best way, I
think, of removing misunderstandings, of bringing
out the real nature of Christian morality, and of lay-
ing a foundation for an answer to a further question
which I have had in view all through these Lectures —
the question in what sense the revelation of God in
Christ may be regarded as final or complete — in what
sense Christianity, looked at either on its purely ethical
or on its religious side, can be regarded as a universal,
or absolute, religion.

Of course there are ethical writers of the present
day who are out of sympathy with the very principle
of Love or universal Brotherhood, and not merely with
particular applications or misapplications or alleged
exaggerations of it. There are, again, those who,



Objections to the Moral Teaching of Christ 137

without (it may be) personally entertaining an anti-
social ideal, take too naturalistic a view of the
Universe to be able to find a place in their theory of it
for the idea of moral obligation at all, whether in a
religious or a purely ethical form. There are others
(among whom the insane genius Nietzsche is the most
conspicuous) who deliberately invert the Christian law,
and defend a Morality based upon pure, unmitigated
Egoism ; who hold that the superior person, the
'* Uebermensch," the ** Super-man," has a right to
assert his own individuality to the utmost possible
extent, and to treat all other and inferior persons as
mere means or instruments for his own enjoyment or
** self-realization," who maintain in so many words
that selfishness is noble, self-sacrifice mean and
contemptible. I believe it can be shown that such an
Ethic is as irrational and self-contradictory as it is
opposed to the ordinary feelings of mankind.^ Here,

* If anyone is inclined to think that Egoism, as an ethical doc-
trine, is capable of philosophical defence, I would recommend him to
study E. von Hartmann's scathing criticism of Nietzsche's ideas in
Ethische Studien, pp. 33-90, or G. A. Moore, Studia Ethica, p. 99 sq.
The contradiction may be briefly pointed out. The Egoist says :
" It is intrinsically reasonable for me (A) to promote my own good
alone." But the meaning of good is something which is intrinsically
valuable, something which ought therefore to be brought into exist-
ence so far as that is possible. It can only be reasonable for me to
promote my own good alone, if it is the only good in the world. If
that were so, another person (B) would also be bound to promote
my good and that of no one else. But, if I tell B that it is reason-
able for him also to be an Egoist and so to promote his own good and
that of no one else, I imply that his good is the only good in the
world. Here I contradict myself : I say that A's good is the only
good in the world and ought to be promoted by everyone, including



138 Conscience and Christ

however, I am not concerned with such fundamental
objections, but with objections in point of detail — with
objections which may be made by people who cordially
accept the fact of moral obligation, and who may not
even deny that the Christian law of love, rightly under-
stood, is the fundamental law of Ethics, though it
requires (they may think) a development and an
interpretation different in some degree from that which
was actually given it by our Lord Himself and by the
early Christian Church. Before I attempt this task,
however, I would emphasize the fact that the objec-
tions are for the most part to details, to applications,
not to the fundamental principle. The applications
which our Lord gives to His precepts are for the most
part avowedly illustrations of the principle. We
must expect that the illustrations should sometimes
have a reference to the immediate circumstances of
time and place, to the then condition of Jewish Society,
to the environment and position of the teacher and the
taught. It might be possible to go further than that,
and to admit that some of His applications were mis-
taken or narrow or one-sided, even relatively to the
circumstances of the time, and still to remain in a
very real sense a follower of Christ and a believer in

B, and at the same time I say that B should think his own good as
the only good in the world. Egoism therefore involves an internal
contradiction — a conclusion which cannot be accepted by anyone
who professes that his ethical system is rational. The irrationality
of the national Egoism now defended by so many German writers
may be exhibited in exactly the same way.



Objections to the Moral Teaching of Christ 139

the Christian religion. I do not myself think that
any such admissions are required, but the possibility
should be faced with an open mind.

(i) The first objection to the Ethic of Christ which
I shall consider is the general suggestion that it
teaches exaggerated self-sacrifice, exaggerated un-
selfishness — that it insists on love of neighbour and
forbids the due and proper regard for self, that
reasonable self-love of which so orthodox a Moralist
as Bishop Butler has spoken with so much respect.
Certainly such a consequence does not flow from the
principle of loving one's neighbour as oneself, and
Christ never taught that a man ought to love his
neighbour better than himself. By the later Christian
Church such a doctrine has more than once been
formally condemned.^ The very principle on which
the rule of Altruism is founded would be inconsistent
with such an exaggeration. The duty of loving one's
neighbour springs from the truth — a truth which is
the very heart and centre of Christ's teaching — that
each individual human self or life or soul possesses an
intrinsic value. That same principle requires there-
fore that each man should treat himself as of no less
value than his neighbour. Most of the exaggerations
of self-sacrifice have sprung from forgetfulness of this
principle. It cannot be reasonable that an individual

^ In 1346 Nicholas de Ultricuria was condemned for maintaining
even that a man ought to love better than himself a man who is
better than himself. See Denifle and Cha.telain, Chartularium
Universitatis Parisiensis, T. II, No. 1124.



140 Conscience and Christ

should sacrifice a larger amount of his own good for
a smaller amount of another's ; or that he should lay
down as a rule for universal observance a precept
which, if universally obeyed, would prove fatal to the
general interests of the whole community ; or that he
should promote one man's interests at the expense of
a much larger number of persons who are no less his
brethren.

This seems to be forgotten by people like Count
Tolstoi, who think it inconsistent with Christian
principles under any circumstances to refuse relief to
a beggar, or to punish a criminal. To give to beggars
in the street when one knows that the effect of doing
so habitually will be a doubtful boon to the recipient
himself, and will certainly turn those who are now
honest working-men into habitual mendicants ; to
give in a way which will injure the self-respect of the
receiver and encourage him in idleness and dependence ;
to give away what ought to be spent upon the mainte-
nance of a family and provision for the future ; even
to give to an extent which, if generally followed, would
lower the standard of life and of culture for the whole
community — such giving cannot be a true application
of the Christian principle of loving one's neighbour as
oneself. How far, it may be asked, would our Lord
Himself have recognized this interpretation of His
words ? There is no reason to think that Jesus
actually understood those laws of social Well-being
which have only been discovered by the extended



Objections to the Moral Teaching of Christ 141

experience, the accumulated observation, the social
and economic Science of later ages. In some ways
no doubt kinds of giving which are harmful when
carried out on a large scale in our highly complex
society may have been less harmful, or not harmful at
all, in a simpler society. To this day the poor give
to each other on a scale which shames the grudging
and scanty charity of the rich, and they do so very
often with the best results. There is no loss of self-
respect in taking money from a friend who knows the
reality of the need, when the receiver would be ashamed
to take it the moment he could do without it, when the
donor may the next day stand in the like need of
assistance himself. Even in their application to the
circumstances of His own day it is most improbable
that our Lord had actually thought out these ques-
tions as to the limitations of giving. But it would be
quite unreasonable to contend that, because He said,
** Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that
would borrow of thee turn not thou away,"^ therefore
He would have refused to recognize that there might
be occasions on which it is right to refuse a dole.
Do we not all of us — the most enlightened and phil-
osophic Moralist, the most stony-hearted charity
organizer, the most cold-blooded social scientist among
us — say to children " Do not lie, do not be hard on
other people, do not kill " ; although we fully recog-

* Matt. V. 42 ; Luke vi. 30 has : "of him that taketh away thy
goods, ask them not again " {dTralret).



142 Conscience and Christ

nize on reflection that there are exceptional circum-
stances under which the interests of Society demand
hardness or lying, and in which killing is no murder ?
All moral teaching has to be given in the form of
general rules : we cannot at every turn be dealing
with exceptions. Jesus Himself, by turning aside at
times from the crowds who wanted Him to heal their
sick, recognized the principle that one detailed moral
rule may sometimes interfere with another ; that one
good can sometimes only be attained by the sacrifice
of some other and lesser good ; that we must think of
the future as well as of the present, and do that which
is best for our fellow-men on the whole. There were
times when it was necessary for the eventual good of
His disciples and of humanity generally that He should
secure leisure for that meditation and communion with
God from which He derived His power to succour
them, or for teaching His disciples how to preach
the Gospel of the Kingdom — more necessary than to
relieve this or that sufferer or minister to the wants
of this or that body or mind diseased.

Another way of putting the same thing is this. Our
Lord fully recognized that the supreme moral law
dealt with dispositions, intentions, the state of the
heart. The true moral law, as it has been said, is
internal.^ The internal law has no exception. It is
always right to love or to be charitably minded. But
internal precepts must be illustrated and defined

* Sir Leslie Stephen. Science of Ethics, p. 155 seq.



Objections to the Moral Teaching of Christ 143

by the acts which under ordinary or normal circum-
stances flow from them. The most obvious applica-
tion of the rule " Be kind " is " Give, lend, refuse not."
But there are circumstances under which a truer
charity, more desire for our neighbour's good, will
show itself in the refusal to give or to lend than is
shown by the kindness which insists on giving even
when it will do more harm than good. I do not deny
that there may have been occasions when our Lord
might have said " Give " when a wider consideration
of social consequences would induce us to say " With-
hold " ; but I do not think there is any precept of His
which is inconsistent with the interpretation which
I have attempted to put upon them when they are
understood with the same allowance for possible excep-
tions or complementary principles which we should
make in interpreting any other moral teacher of any
age or country.

(2) The next objection which I shall notice is the
same in principle as the last, and ought, I think, to
be met in much the same way. It is said that our
Lord lays down principles of non-resistance, sub-
missiveness, meekness which are inconsistent with
manly self-respect ; and which, if generally observed,
would be fatal to the very existence of social order
and civil society. " Resist not him that is evil : but
whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to
him the other also. And if any man would go to law
with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy



144 Conscience and Christ

cloke also "^ and so on. In such injunctions Jesus was
clearly not thinking of poHtical problems at all. They
lay entirely beyond His province. The people whom
He was addressing had nothing to do with govern-
ment or the administration of justice : they had no
votes and did not sit on juries. This must not be
distorted into the doctrine that Christianity has
nothing to do with politics or social questions. The
principles of Ethics, whatever principles they are that
we adopt, must necessarily be applicable to all spheres
of life. Those who have accepted Christ's principles of
conduct must necessarily, when they find themselves
in power, regard them as their rule of action in their
official or civil capacity as well as in their business life
and their private affairs. The principles must be
applied to politics : but Christ did not so apply them
Himself. He was speaking of the conduct of private
individuals towards one another. The principle which
He lays down is, I imagine, this — that the spirit of
revenge is bad. The law of Brotherhood requires
that we should love every human being, even the man
who has done us an injury. His bad conduct cannot
alter the fact that he is an end-in-himself, that his
good is no less valuable than one's own ; even if he
is actually bad, still he has capacities of goodness
which give his life a value. The principle is the one
which Plato — nearest of the ancients to Christ on this
side of his thought, if not on all sides — so strenuously

' Matt. V. 39, 40. Cf. Luke vi. 29,



Objections to the Moral Teaching of Christ 145

asserted, that we ought always to do good to every
human being, and never evil, and that therefore
punishment must be regarded as a medicine for moral
maladies. We should never avenge an injury merely
because we are angry, because it is / that have been
injured, because my personal honour demands it.
But there may be occasions when either the good of
the offending person or the good of society requires
some kind of resentment. The object should always
be to do what is best for the person himself, so far as
is compatible with the duty that we owe to other
persons.

The most obvious way of showing another that, in
spite of his injury, we care for his good, and of bringing
him to repentance, is to forgive. But there may be
cases in which some kind of resentment is best both
for the individual himself and in the interests of
society ; there are occasions when the interests of the
individual ought to give way to the interests of society
— that is to say, to the interests of a much greater
number of persons who are also our brethren. But
this is very much less often the case than most of us
in our pride and our selfishness are apt to imagine.
And when we do determine that some resentment is
necessary, the amount and the form of it should be
governed by the same principle of Christian love to
the offender and to others. Sometimes literal forgive-
ness, in the sense of remission of penalty, will be best ;
sometimes resentment ; at other times some combina-



146 Conscience and Christ

tion of the two. Resentment may take a great variety
of forms : it may be a rebuke, a protest, the mere
showing that we are hurt, renunciation of friendship
or diminution of intimacy or a change of manner.
At other times the protection of society may make
self-defence a duty, and self-defence may sometimes
take the form of giving blow for blow, though in a
civilized and orderly society for obvious reasons no
one should take the law into his own hands (to use
the common phrase) except for some very good
reason, and on very exceptional occasions. At other
times the resentment that is called for will take the
form of legal prosecution. In no case, be it remem-
bered, is the duty of forgiveness entirely abrogated by
the duty of resentment. In the words of Bishop
Butler, " Resentment is not inconsistent with good-
will : for we often see both together in very high
degrees; not only in parents towards their children,
but in cases of friendship and dependence, where there
is no natural relation. . . . We may therefore love our
enemy, and yet have resentment against him for his
injurious behaviour towards us. But when this
resentment destroys our natural Benevolence towards
him, it is excessive and becomes maHce or revenge."
The injured person (to quote Butler once more)
" ought to be affected towards the injurious person in
the same way any good man, uninterested in the
case, would be, if they had the same just sense which
we have supposed the injured person to have of the



Objections to the Moral Teaching of Christ i/{y

fault : after which there will yet remain real good-
will towards the offender. "^

How far, it will be asked, would Christ Himself have
recognized this statement of the case ? Are we not,
when we adopt such principles of action, really explain-
ing away His teaching ? I am quite sure of two things :
(a) that I am correctly stating the principles which
flow from that law of mutual love which Christ Him-
self laid down as the supreme moral law : and {b) that
if in any matter the spirit of Christ's teaching is seen
by us, in the light of wider knowledge and experience,
to be inconsistent with any application which He
actually gave or would have given in particular cases,
it is our duty to follow the spirit of that teaching and
not the letter, the principle and not the particular
application. But I do not think that by interpreting
His rule of life as I have interpreted it we are con-
travening any command of His which He meant to
be literally observed in every possible case. To what
extent Christ had actually reflected on the question
how far in some cases the requirements of social Well-
being made it necessary for men who wish to forgive
nevertheless to punish, for men who desire their
neighbour's ultimate good to inflict on them immediate
evil, how far He would have recognized the exceptions
for which I have been pleading in the application of

* Sermon ix. in Fifteen Sermons. I have fully dealt with the
problems of Punishment and Forgiveness in my Theory of Good and
Evil, I, Pt. I, chap. ix.



148 Conscience and Christ

His typical, startling, paradoxical illustrations of the
principle which should govern the treatment of
injuries by His followers, we simply do not know, and
cannot know. But we have enough evidence to indi-
cate that our Lord Himself did not intend His precepts
to be taken with the deadly literalness which Western
minds, bent either on a too htcral imitation of the out-
ward accidents of the Master's life on the one hand,
or anxious to represent them as obsolete and impractic-
able on the other, have been disposed to take them.
The most unsympathetic modern critic of Christ's utter-
ances will not seriously contend that our Lord meant
that men were to mutilate themselves in order to
observe His precept about the offending member, or
that He who bade us love all men really meant that
His followers should hate — in the ordinary sense of
the word " hate " — father and mother and child, or
that forgiveness was to cease after 490 offences.^ So
to interpret Christ is to reduce His teaching to a mass
of inconsistent, self -contradictory nonsense. He de-
clared that to call a brother fool might be as bad as
murder: yet He is recorded once at least to have
used the word Himself, ^ and on other occasions used
language of equal vehemence and severity. He forbade

1 It is rather tempting to add that in accepting the High-Priest's
adjurations (Matt. xxvi. 63, 64) Jesus gave evidence on oath before a
court of Justice. But the High-Priest's " I adjure thee by the living
God" is omitted in Mark xiv. 61 and Luke xxii. 67, and after all
the " thou hast said " need not necessarily imply that the speaker
accepted the adjuration.

- Matt, xxiii. 17. Cf. Luke xi. 40 ; Luke xxiv. 25.



Objections to the Moral Teaching of Christ 149

men to resist evil : yet His driving out the oxen from
the Temple, and overthrowing the tables of the money-
changers were acts of physical force. ^ The language
which He uses towards the Pharisees or in speaking of
them is quite inconsistent with the idea that our Lord
condemned all self-assertion, all vehemence of ex-
pression, all manifestations of hostility against the
oppressor, the wrong-doer, the dishonourer of God.^
If we are to regard as part of our Lord's real teaching
the injunction to take complaints to the Church or
Christian Assembly, to abide by their decision and to
treat as a heathen man and a publican the unrepentant
Christian offender against his brother, those words
sanction the principle of organized social resentment.
It is practically certain, indeed, on critical grounds'
that we have here a development, an application of
Christ's teaching — a quite legitimate application in the

^ It is just conceivable that our Lord may even have thought
seriously of using — not against an armed band, but against the
attack of an assassin — the weapons which, according to Luke xxii. 38,
He directed His disciples to procure. More probably the words were
" a piece of ironical foreboding " (Burkitt, The Gospel History
and its Transmission, p. 141) which a disciple took literally. The
"it is enough " will then mean : " Drop that idea : my words
were not meant seriously."

* Of course it is possible (with Mr. Montefiore) to condemn the
language used by our Lord against the Pharisees. See below, p. 179.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryHastings RashdallConscience & Christ : six lectures on Christian ethics → online text (page 11 of 23)