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Conscience & Christ : six lectures on Christian ethics online

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Objections to the Moral Teaching of Christ 191

God as he has loved some human beings ? Did he ever
derive from the love of God a greater inspiration for all
good things and thoughts than from the love of some one
or other child of earth ? " (Garrod, The Religion of All Good-
Men, Ed. I, p. 169). On this objection I would remark
(i) that the author seems naively to suppose that an ideal
is shown to be false because it is not fully realized by most
of us : on this side the objection would best be met by some
well-known quotations from Plato. (2) He has largely
answered himself when he goes on to say, " Did he never
feel that in the love of some single human being he was
loving God ? " If the love of God not only does not
exclude, but expresses itself in the love of particular
persons, why does he object to the Christian language ?
If the writer does not mean that the moral ideal is adequately
satisfied by the love of a single human being to the ex-
clusion of all others, it is clear that the love of all Good
will express itself in the love, not merely of a single human
being, but of all human beings.

The love which ought to be felt towards all men as such
is the desire of the true good for particular human beings,
and such love is the same in principle as the love of God, in
whom whatever is good in human beings is reahzed in
a transcendent degree, and whose Will is (as Christians
beheve) directed towards the good of those beings. The
emotion which naturally accompanies such a direction of
the will normally shows itself in the love of particular
individuals, or quite as often in devotion to particular
societies of individuals. Love of country, of Church, of the
ideal represented by Christ has often, in point of fact, been
quite as intense as that felt for a wife or a friend. The
highest degree of devotion to the general good does not
exclude the existence of feelings towards particular persons
which it would be a psychological impossibility to feel

192 Conscience and Christ

towards all. Nor docs it follow that on all occasions the
best man will behave towards all as he does towards his
best friend. The love of Humanity shows itself largely,
though not entirely, in performing services for particular
individuals. The extent to which, and the ways in which
the good man will promote the good of any particular
individual will depend upon the nature of his relation
towards them. There are obvious reasons why a man
should in practice promote the good of his own family
more actively and persistently in certain ways than the
good of strangers. Somewhat similar considerations will
prescribe that in certain other ways we should promote the
good of those to whom we are attracted by natural and
spontaneous affection rather than that of strangers. The
existence of such natural affection is one of the things — but
only one — which determines for which of all possible
human beings we should specially perfonn good offices.
What I imagine the Christian and rational precept
of love towards mankind as such to prescribe is that the
ultimate laws of human conduct should be determined by
the principle that every man should be treated as an
end-in-himself according to his intrinsic value. This
ultimate law will prescribe that our conduct even towards
those for whom we have most natural affection should be
duly controlled by, and subordinated to, the requirements
of general social well-being. The selection of the persons
towards whom should be performed the kind of services
which cannot be performed towards all should be deter-
mined likewise by the supreme rule of promoting universal
well-being. This supreme rule will prescribe, for instance,
that a man is free to a large extent to choose his com-
panions according to his own tastes, and that he may
spend much of his leisure in their company. It would,
however, clearly not be a rule fit for law universal that he

Objections to the Moral Teaching of Christ 193

should leave to his personal friend the money which by
the social custom of his community and the implied under-
standing at his marriage should go to his wife and her
children, even if he chanced to feel more affection for the
friend than for the v\dfe. And the same principle will re-
quire that neither personal friend nor wife and children
should interfere with the discharge of his professional
duties or his willingness to fight for his country in the hour
of need. But I feel I am here straying into broad questions
of Moral Philosophy which it would take too long to
discuss here.

It may be suggested that, while it is possible for a man
to act upon such principles, it is not possible for him to
control his feelings and emotions and affections to the same
extent. I should reply briefly (i) that the man whose will
is steadily directed towards such a rule of conduct does
fulfil the command of universal love : the love towards all
men which the Christian rule and rational MoraHty demand
is primarily a direction of the will. The fact that a man
is willing to prefer the interests of Humanity to those of
his wife and family (where such a preference is really
demanded), actually proves that he does desire their good
more than that of wife and children. Will is a name for the
dominant desire which has passed into action, (ii) In so
far as the emotional accompaniments of such a desire can
be distinguished from the desire itself, they will tend to
grow into conformity with the rule upon which the man
habitually wills to act. (iii) In so far as the emotion that
we feel towards particular persons is of a kind that we
cannot feel towards strangers or towards collective
humanity, there is no inconsistency between the strongest
devotion to Humanity and the tenderest affections towards

After all, the best answer to Mr. Garrod is to point to the

194 Conscience and Christ

actual character and conduct of the best Christians in all
ages. The Christians who have left home and family and
friends to become missionaries, or who have refused to
seek safety in time of danger for fear of leaving their
wives widows and their children fatherless, or who have
done things which involved the risk of pecuniary ruin to
their famiUes rather than be dishonest, have felt the ties
of kinship and personal affection as keenly as other men :
yet the fact that they acted as they did is a proof that they
did love God or Christ or Humanity more than all these.
The candour and sincerity of Mr. Garrod's enquiry deserve
respect, but he is not the only writer who has criticized
Cliristianity without showing much knowledge of what
the best actual Christians have shown themselves to be
like either in history or in his own day. When personal
experience fails, a little study of Christian biography may
be recommended as an essential qualification for writing
upon the comparative merits of the Christian, the Hellenic,
and the " Gothic " ideals of life.


IN my last lecture I endeavoured to make it plain
that the ethical teaching of Jesus could be regarded
as the supreme guide for conduct in modern life on
two conditions only — firstly, that that teaching is
understood as laying down general principles and
not detailed regulations of eternal obligation : secondly,
that the necessity for development is admitted in the
am.plest possible manner. The first condition is one
which may be said to have been fully recognized by
Jesus Himself, since He never attempts to do more than
lay down principles : any applications which He gives
to them are avowedly mere illustrations or appHca-
tions of those principles to the conduct of particular
individuals under particular circumstances, which can
only be appHed to other individuals and other cir-
cumstances by disengaging the general principle from
the particular application. And this implicitly carries
with it the other principle, the principle of Develop
ment ; for, if one can discover no detailed rules in the
teaching of Christ, it is obvious that we must make
them for ourselves. How far we can discover any ex-


196 Conscience and Christ

press recognition of that necessity for development in
the teaching of the Master Himself will depend largely
upon the view that we take of the fourth Gospel. The
doctrine of the Holy Ghost contained in that Gospel
obviously implies this principle. It was to be the
object of the Spirit's indwelling to take of Christ's and
show it unto His disciples. The Spirit was to say to
them many things which at present they could not
bear, and therefore His going away from them was the
very condition of their moral and spiritual advance-
ment. I do not myself think that this teaching about
the Paraclete in the Church can have had more than
a rudimentary germ in the teaching of Jesus Himself.
There was a germ of it in that recognition of the
existence of Conscience on which I have already
dwelt, and in the many sayings which speak of a Holy
Spirit working in the hearts of men. The fourth
Evangelist's doctrine of the Paraclete, and of the
Church as the Society in which the Spirit dwells and
works, is just an illustration of that very development
of which I am speaking. It involves the principle both
in the region of Theology and in that of Ethics. In
the present lecture I must confine myself to the ethical
side of this development.

It is well that we should set before our minds quite
clearly and definitely what is meant by this principle
of ethical Development. We have already dealt with
the kind of ethical evolution which went on in the
Jewish mind before the time of Christ, and which cul-

The Principle of Development 197

minates in His teaching. In that teaching, as I have
tried to show you, we do discover a supreme and
final principle which we do not expect to be tran-
scended — the rule of universal love, which (expressed
in cold philosophical terms) implies that human duty
consists in the promotion of the true good for all man-
kind, the good of one being considered as of equal
intrinsic value with the like good of every other. Why
is this principle insufficient for the guidance of life
without any further expansion ? For two reasons :
in the first place we want to know the means by which
human good is to be promoted : and in the second
place we must know what in detail constitutes this
" good " which we are to promote for all mankind.
It is obvious from the nature of the case that there can
be no finality in either of these directions. The dis-
covery of any fresh means of promoting human good
not only adds new rules of life to the ethical code ;
it actually cancels old rules. Not only has the course
of social and intellectual development opened up a
thousand duties of which no one living in the time
of Jesus could well have dreamed, of which the
wisest of men, Jewish, pagan or Christian, never had
dreamed, but many acts which to the world of that
day seemed right have become wrong in the light of
fuller knowledge of detailed fact and of natural or
social law. Indiscriminate almsgiving became wrong
when it was discovered that it does more harm than
good — generally to the actual recipient, always to

198 Conscience and Christ

others. It has become wrong to spend time in organ-
izing solemn processions as a means of averting
plague now that we know that plague is produced by
neglect of sanitary precautions, and that energy
devoted to sanitary reform is a more effective way of
averting it than the organization of processions. It
has become wrong for religious men to turn aside from
politics now that we realize how much improved
social arrangements may do not merely for human
happiness but for the improvement of human character
and for the elevation of human life on its most spiritual
side. This principle, when once pointed out, is too
obvious to need further illustration ; and yet it
involves the absolute abandonment of the attempt
to derive detailed guidance in matters of conduct
from any final and closed system of moral rules,
whether it be the teaching of Christ or of the New
Testament or of the most elaborate authoritative
Casuistry. The more elaborate and detailed the rules
become, the greater ere long becomes their inapplica-
bility to a world in which circumstances are con-
stantly changing and knowledge advancing. Simple
as the principle is, I do not think it has ever yet
been sufficiently grasped by the mass of religious
people or by their religious guides. It is still too often
assumed that we cannot make the promotion of
Socialism a Christian duty unless we can show that
Christ Himself was a Socialist, or that we can refute
Socialism by showing that He was not. There is still

The Principle of Development 199

too much disposition among Christian people to settle
ethical controversies by the appeal to isolated texts
or to ancient ecclesiastical rules. ^

It is the other kind of development which creates
the most difficulty — the development in our concep-
tion of what this ideal consists in, this " good " which
we recognize it as a duty to promote for all mankind.
It is here that it may most plausibly be contended
that the principle of development has actually been
carried by almost all modern Christians to a point
which really makes it impossible to treat the moral
teaching of Jesus as any longer expressing an ideal
which enlightened modern minds can recognize as their
own. It has become fashionable to express the con-
trast betv^^een the ethical teaching of Jesus and the
ideal which most modern men profess by saying that
the ethics of Jesus were " world-renouncing " and
that ours are "world-affirming."* I should like to
face that question as honestly as I can — to ask firstly
how far this contrast holds between the teaching of
Jesus and the ethical ideal which most cultivated
modern Christians actually profess ; and secondly,
whether, in so far as this is the case, it prevents our

^ I am afraid that some of the pubHcations even of so enlightened
a body as the Christian Social Union have not been altogether free
from the tendency to erect a social system upon the basis of texts
from the Old and New Testaments.

' See, for instance, Professor Troeltsch's brilliant work Protestant-
ism and Progress (trans, by W. Montgomery). The weak point of
that otherwise valuable enquiry seems to me to lie in the acceptance
of this distinction, without much analysis, as adequate and absolute

200 Conscience and Christ

sincerely giving to that teaching the supremacy which
Christians have always claimed, and still claim, for it.
To a great extent I have already dealt \\ith these
questions in asking how far the eschatological ideas
of Jesus really prevent our accepting His fundamental
ethical principles. In fact, I do not think I need do
much more than remind you of the conclusions at
which we have already arrived. If these conclusions
are true, we shall answer our present problem by
saying two things : (i) That there is room for much
development in our conception of what the ideal good
consists in without giving up the fundamental prin-
ciple that the supreme precept in MoraUty is that which
enjoins the promotion of this good for all mankind :
and (2) that the extent to which it can justly be said
that the ideal of Jesus was world-renouncing has been
greatly exaggerated. Undoubtedly the ideal of Jesus
was world-renouncing, if that means the renunciation
of selfishness, of selfish ambitions, of sensuality, of
pride ; if it means that in the ideal life the highest
place was to be given to a goodness of which love is
the supreme element, and in which the spiritual is
regarded as of much more importance than the carnal.
Nobody who does not acknowledge the truth of His
teaching on such fundamental points as this — nobody
(to put it more definitely) whose ideal does not include
the condemnation of adultery and fornication and
sensuality in thought, of drunkenness and every exces-
sive indulgence of appetite — is likely even to claim that

The Principle of Development 20i

his ethical ideal is a legitimate development of Christ's.
But neither His ideal nor His practice were world-
renouncing in the sense of despising and condemning
all ordinary human pleasure — still less in the extremer
sense of positively courting pain. He, as we have
already seen, neither practised nor enjoined fasting.
He spent much of His time and energy in curing
diseases of mind and body. He made little of bodily
pleasures and satisfactions in comparison with higher
things. But He never condemned them, or urged that
they should be given up except as a means to some-
thing higher — that something being, for His im-
mediate disciples, the preaching of the Kingdom of
Heaven and, for all, the effort to become fit for entrance
into that Kingdom. And that really implies that in
principle His ideal was not world-renouncing. There
is absolutely no idea or suggestion in His teaching of
self-renunciation for its own sake — of the ideal which
would extinguish all pleasure, all desire, all in-
dividuality. If in the exercise of our moral conscious-
ness we judge many things in life to be good of which
He knew little and thought little, it is a quite legitimate
extension and development of His teaching to include
these things in our conception of the good which the
rule of Universal Love bids us promote for others.

Indeed, it may, I think, be shown that the ascetic
view of life is logically inconsistent with the teaching
which makes the heart of MoraUty consist in love —
love as Jesus understood it. He certainly recognized

202 Conscience and Christ

it as a duty to promote bodily health, and a certain
measure of enjoyment for others. His injunctions
to charity are constantly directed towards the satis-
faction of bodily wants, and no sober criticism can
well deny that He claimed to heal some kinds of
bodily disease by spiritual influence. If these things
are good for others, they must be good for myself also
— in due subordination to the claims of others : up to
that point therefore it cannot be wrong for me to enjoy
them myself. Nor is there any reason why, whether
for ourselves or for others, we should stop at precisely
that minimum of enjoyment which is represented by
a sufficiency of food and clothing. We cannot set up
a rule of unlimited giving or self-sacrifice for the sake
of others without raising the question : "To what
shall the energies of a community be devoted when
once food and clothing have been secured to every-
one ? " If it is suggested that the rest of their energies
ought to be devoted to the promotion of righteousness,
it must be remembered that there is a limit to the
extent to which time can effectively be spent in the
promotion of righteousness. Too much zeal for
edification ceases to edify. Let us suppose that we
have secured a community in which nobody takes
more than his share of the lower goods, and in which,
so far, nobody is wanting in love. Is all the rest
of the time and energy of the community to be spent
in religious contemplation or spiritual exercises ? If
not. to what is their time to be devoted if not either

The Principle of Development 203

to some increase of lower pleasures or enjoyments
above what is absolutely necessary for life and health,
or to such higher enjoyments as Science, Art, Litera-
ture, and the like ? Are we not then to include these
things in our conception of the ideal life ?

It might, indeed, be contended that from the
actual nature of things it is impossible that everyone
should enjoy more than a very moderate amount of
such higher goods as Art, Knowledge, Culture, and
that no one ought to get more of these things than is
possible for everyone. But, as a matter of fact, it is
quite impossible that all should enjoy even a moderate
amount of culture unless some men enjoy a much
higher amount. The scientific discoveries which all
may know of, and the scientific inventions which all
may use, have resulted from the labours of men who
have devoted the bulk of their time and energy to
Science. The books which all may read have been
written by men who have devoted their lives to reading
more, and thinking more, than those who read them.
The little insight into the nature of the Universe and
the little enjoyment of beauty which are possible to
those who spend most of their days in manual labour,
come from the work of those who have spent most of
their time in intellectual or artistic pursuits. In this
way it may be shown that there is an inner contra-
diction in the position of those who, without denying
that some enjoyment of the best things is part of the
ideal life, would set very severe limits to that enjoy-

2o4 Conscience and Christ

ment, and practically look askance upon any serious
devotion to artistic or scientific or literary pursuits
by anyone professing to accept the Christian ideal of
mutual service. The severer the Asceticism, the more
logical it becomes. Only when Asceticism becomes
severe, it becomes hopelessly irreconcilable with the
teaching and practice of Him whose example Chris-
tians profess to respect. If the Science which has
resulted in so much saving of pain to humanity is a
bad thing, why was it right for Jesus to go about
curing disease ? If a ball is in itself wrong (I am putting
aside for the present the question how much time and
money ought to be spent upon such enjoyments),
why not the simple village wedding feast ? If absti-
nence and the depression which it causes are really
better than the health and cheerfulness which springs
from moderate eating and drinking, why did not
Jesus teach His disciples to fast as the disciples of
John and of the Pharisees fasted ?

After all, there is no arguing about these ultimate
judgements of value. Physical Science it is difficult to
condemn for anyone who shares the Christian ideal of
Brotherhood, on account of its practical apphcations :
but if anybody likes to say that the world would be
a better world if there were in it no drama, no novels,
no poetry except hymns, no music except hymn-tunes,
no Art except what is directly conducive to edification,
no learning beyond the biblical exegesis of the Sunday
School, no Philosophy which seriously faces ultimate

The Principle of Development 205

questions, he cannot be positively refuted. If this
be the result of appeal to the moral consciousness,
there is no more to be said. I can only say to my own
mind this is certainly not the case ; my own moral
consciousness unhesitatingly affirms that these things
are good ; and so does that of most modern men. The
austere religionists who even now are inclined to
depreciate all employments which do not minister to
the relief of strict bodily necessities on the one hand or
to immediate edification on the other, generally admit
so much of the modem view of life that they can be
convicted of intellectual inconsistency, or at least of
arbitrary limitations, if they refuse to go further. They
look with suspicion on the man of Science ; yet they
will travel in railway trains, and use telephones, and
regard it as a thoroughly religious task to secure the
best medical treatment for the sick. They cannot
quite get over the suspicion that there is something
profane and presumably godless about the occupation
of a Philosopher, or a researcher, or an Artist ; yet
they will hang photographs of the Artist's picture on
their walls, and, when the ideas of the Philosopher or
the discoveries of the researcher have filtered down
into school text-books, they will be heartily zealous
that children should read them. They condemn the
stage, but they will read Shakespeare at home — and so
forth. The most hopelessly inconsistent of all are the
religious people who do not condemn a very consider-
able indulgence in the lower good things of life, but

2o6 Conscience and Christ

reserve all their asceticism for the higher intellectual
pursuits. Have we not known of rich bankers or wine-
merchants who spend their lives in ministering to the
luxuries of other rich persons and much of their profits
in luxury for themselves, but who would regard almost
as a lost soul a son who w^anted to become a philosopher
or a scholar or a painter ? I have myself heard a clergy-
man speak about a brilliant school contemporary of his
who had remained all his hfe an Oxford don as one
would speak of a respectable man who had taken to
drink or otherwise gone to the bad. Had he gone to
the Bar and made a fortune, that would have been all

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Online LibraryHastings RashdallConscience & Christ : six lectures on Christian ethics → online text (page 15 of 23)