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Conscience & Christ : six lectures on Christian ethics online

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purity— the idea that God must be thought of in the
hght of this ideal, as the common Father of Humanity
whose nature is best expressed by the word Love.^

1 In The Teaching of Christ, by the Rev. E. G. Selwyn, an attempt
is made to deny that Jesus " revealed God as ' Father ' " (p. 56).
The grounds for this somewhat surprising statement seem to be
that " the teaching about the Father, where it is direct and not
parabohc, is given to those who have already responded to His
preaching. . . . The Sermon on the Mount, we are told, was uttered
after ' His disciples came unto Him.' " Surely if this last statement
be accepted, it would not alter the fact that Christ did teach it ; but,
if there is a certain result of criticism, it is that the introductions to
our Lord's discourses and the joinings of His sayings are frequently
literary devices of the compilers and cannot be implicitly relied
upon as history. Nobody now supposes that the Sermon on the
Mount as a whole was delivered on any one occasion. Further, he

282 Conscience and Christ

And His life and the character which it reveals im-
press us as having been in completest harmony with
that ideal. This is briefly the line of thought which
leads us up to the conclusion that it is in the teaching,
the mind, the Personality of Christ that the highest

contends that (i) the idea of God's Fatherhood was already known
to the Jews, and (2) that Jesus did not teach that " God's Father-
hood was a truth independent of the believer's relation to Himself."
Surely these two reasons are mutually exclusive, unless Mr. Selwyn
is actually prepared to say that the prophetic belief in the Father-
hood of God was unfounded, and the second assertion chiefly rests
upon the fourth Gospel. If he appeals to that Gospel, will he say
that, even to its author, " God is love " means merely " God loves
all members of the Christian Church " ?

Mr. Selwyn further asserts that " He no more teaches the Brother-
hood of Man than the Fatherhood of God " (p. 109) on the ground
that the early Christian writers only apply the word " brother " or
" brethren " to fellow-Christians, and not to the Gentiles. Even
if this were true, it would not show that our Lord did not teach the
wider truth Himself. No doubt Jesus was always speaking to Jews,
and did not often explicitly consider the case of Gentiles. But does
Mr. Selwyn seriously mean to say that our Lord — e.g. in the parable
of the Good Samaritan — meant that the term " neighbour" was to
be understood only of the brother Jew or the fellow-Cliristian ? If
not, the idea of the Brotherhood of all men is clearly latent in that
parable as in all the teaching which implies the doctrine of universal
love. The question whether the word " brother" is used is com-
paratively unimportant.

With regard to the later Christian Church it is true that " brother "
meant primarily " fellow-Christian," but it would be a libel on the
early Church and opposed to all the historical evidence to say that
it did not teach the duty of loving pagans. What is the difference
between loving a man as oneself and treating him as a " brother " ?
No doubt the ideal of love is not fully reached till it is mutual, but
that fact does not destroy the duty of trying to realize it. It is a
pity that a writer otherwise not illiberal or uncritical should have
allowed the desire to prove that the " liberal Protestant " has
always been wrong to get the better of him, and should so frequently
insist on reading back into the teaching of Jesus not merely the
germs but the developed ideas of later " Catholicism." In the
writings of liberal Protestants he complains of " the sudden and
secret irruption of the subjective element into discussions which
purport to be objective and scientific " (p. 56). 1 do not deny that

Christian Ethics and other Systems 283

and completest Revelation of God has been made.
And this is the fundamental truth which Greek re-
ligious Philosophy expressed by saying that the Son
or Logos, the Reason or Word of God, was incarnate in
Him. " The Word took flesh and dwelt among us,
and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-
begotten of the Father." If I were to develope the
arguments which justify the appUcation to Jesus of
theological language such as is used by the Christian
Creeds, I should lay the chief stress upon this — that
now after the lapse of nearly two thousand years the
teaching of Jesus about God and about the moral
ideal still appeals to us as containing the vital essence
of all Religion and of all Morality ; that it presents
itself to us as the true basis of all further development
whether in the sphere of Theology or of Morality, and
that it is in the Church which Jesus founded that such
a development has taken place and is taking place in
the fullest and richest measure. I do not believe that
Jesus is the only man in whom the Word or Reason
or Wisdom of God has dwelt. That God has been
revealed in some measure by other great prophets and
teachers, that He dwells to some extent in the Con-
science of all men, was fully and cordially recognized

the complaint has sometimes been justified, but Mr. Selwyn seems
to me to have merely exchanged one subjective bias for another.
The fact that he has done so is to my mind the chief defect in an
otherwise excellent book. Fortunately the belief that God is the
common Father of men, and that Christ taught the Brotherhood of
man is not often explicitly repudiated either by Catholics or

284 Conscience and Christ

by the philosophical Greek Fathers. But the unique
appeal which Christ still makes to our Conscience
both by His teaching and by His Hfe and death of self-
sacrifice, taken together with the supreme place which
the religion founded by Him has occupied, and still
occupies, in the spiritual history of the world, justifies
us in saying that with Him the Logos was united in
a supreme manner, that in Him God is most fully
revealed to men, or, in the language of St. Paul,
that in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead
bodily. And the greatest advantage of putting Christ
in this position is that it enormously strengthens the
influence of Jesus and the ideal which He represents,
over the moral and religious life. And therefore I
believe that it is in religious communities which retain
the ancient Catholic tradition, or at least recognize in
some explicit way the fundamental idea which has
expressed itself in that tradition, that the influence of
Christ's ideal is likely to attain its maximum intensity.
There are followers of Christ who have not taken
His name upon their lips. There are others who do
assume that name but who scruple to speak of Him as
God incarnate. That should not prevent our recog-
nizing these last as fellow-Christians and co-operating
with them in all manner of Christian activities ; but
equally it should not prevent us from affirming that for
ourselves the following of Christ is made easier by think-
ing of Him not only as the supreme Teacher and the
supreme Example, but as the Being in whom that

Christian Ethics and other Systems 285

union of God and Man after which all ethical Religion
aspires, is most fully accompHshed, and through whom
the individual soul can attain in the fullest measure
that degree of complete likeness to God which its
spiritual capacity admits.


The question may be raised, " In what relation does the
love of God stand to the love of man ? " There is no
explicit attempt to reconcile or reduce to unity the two
commandments in the teaching of Jesus Himself. But if
the conception of God taught by Him is that of a loving
and righteous Father who wills the true good of all His
creatures, it is a fair deduction that the love of God will
show itself in the love of man. Will it show itself in
nothing else ? The answer to that question will depend
upon the view we take of the attitude of Jesus to the
ceremonial law, a subject which has already been briefly
discussed. If the view I have taken on that subject be
correct, we may say that, in so far as Jesus recognized the
non-permanence and non-essentiality of the Mosaic Law,
He must be taken by impHcation to have recognized that
in their actual content the two commandments come to
the same thing. The love of God can express itself in
actual conduct only by the doing of God's will. If God
wills nothing but the true good of man (and, as we might
be incHned to add, all sentient beings), the conduct to
which the love of God prompts will be the same as that
enjoined by the second great commandment which, in the
words of the Gospel, is "like unto" the first. ^ The
performance of ritual ordinances, sacrifices, acts of worship,

* Matt. xxii. 39, probably an addition of the Evangelist ; Mark
(xii. 31) has simply " the second is this."


On the Love of God 287

etc., will thus only be valuable in so far as they stimulate
to the doing of God's will in the service of man. It is true
that, if "on these commandments hang all the law and
prophets," be treated as an addition of the Evangelist,
Jesus does not explicitly recognize that there are no other
commandments not included in the two, but in many
passages He implies it : for the other commandments
cease to be binding when they conflict with them, and
they do conflict the moment they are not duly subordi-
nated to the two. To spend time and money on sacrifices,
except so far as to do so will make the sacrificer or others
more willing to perform the two great commandments,
would be to put the command to sacrifice above the
command to love. The implication was fully developed by
St. Paul and the Church.

Does this imply that the first commandment becomes
superfluous, and that it may in practice be superseded by
the second ? Not at all. For, (i) it is of extreme importance
to recognize that the service of man is the Will of God —
that religious motives should be brought to bear upon and
invoked to secure the performance of the duties prescribed
by abstract moraUty. (2) In particular the love of ideal
perfection is likely to be stimulated by the belief in an
ideally perfect Being. Devotion to a Person is a stronger
motive than devotion to an idea. (3) The insistence upon
the love of God is particularly valuable in preventing " the
enthusiasm of humanity " from degenerating into mere
hedonistic UtiUtarianism. It tends to emphasize the
truth that the good of man which the Christian is to pro-
mote is not his mere pleasure but his true good — that
ideal of Humanity which constitutes the true end for
which his hfe was designed by God, and which is an ex-
pression of the character which belongs eternally to God.
The love of God is love of the moral ideal considered

288 Conscience and Christ

not as a mere ideal, but an ideal realized in a personal
Being. 1

The teaching of Christ recognizes two motives for
Morality which prompt to the same conduct — love of God
and love of man. There is no trace in His teaching of the
monstrous doctrine which I have heard preached by men
who are regarded as typical (if rather old-fashioned) repre-
sentatives of Anglican doctrine — that love of man is
impossible without the love of God consciously present
and recognized as such in the mind of the agent. This
doctrine is, indeed, opposed to an explicit declaration of
Jesus : " Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these My
brethren, even these least, ye did it unto Me."^ (It
is possible that "brethren" may mean merely "followers
of Christ," but this is hardly likely if the words be a genuine
utterance of Jesus.) This beautiful saying implies that
there may be much true Christian morality in those who
have not used the name of Christ, or been consciously
inspired by the love of God. This is quite consistent \\ith
the assertion that ideally the love of God ought to be
combined with the love of man, and that the first may be
a most valuable mode of inspiring the second. Both, in
fact, spring from the same root — the love of all that is
worthy of love, love of what is good absolutely or universally.
The later doctrine of the Church brought the two motives
together by its insistence upon the love of Christ — the
ideal Man in whom the perfection of God was most fully
revealed and realized — at once the highest revelation of
the divine character and the supreme example of human
goodness. This union of the two ideal motives to Morality

* " Conscientiousness is the sum and substance of the love of
God." Tyrrell, Essays on Faith and Immortality, p. 26. The
saying may be accepted with the proviso mentioned above.

" Matt. XXV. 40.

On the Love of God 289

has, no doubt, been one of the ideas to which the Christian
Rehgion owes its strength. It still possesses enormous
value ; but it should always be insisted on in such a w^ay
as (i) to keep prominent the idea that Christ is the Revealer
of God, and not to substitute the Son for the Father or
encourage the idea that the Father's character is unlike
the Son's, or that the Father is too far off and impersonal a
Being to be loved and prayed to ; (2) to treat the historic
Christ as the symbol and embodiment of ideal Humanity,
without resolving Him into a Christ who is ideal in the
sense of being unhistorical. It is right to do good to man
" for the sake of Christ " ; we cannot legitimately say '' we
will do good to man 07tly for the sake of Christ : if it were
not for Christ, we should do nothing of the kind." True
Christian love, as has been finely said by Seeley, is " the
love of the ideal Man in each man, or, as Christ Himself
might have said, the love of God in each man " (Ecce Homo,
chap, xviii). It is a love of the possible Christ in every

Further to discuss this subject would involve an
examination of the whole question of the relation of
Religion to Morality, which I have dealt with somewhat
fully in The Theory of Good and Evil, Book III, chap. ii.


The question of our Lord's teaching about the future hfe
does not strictly belong to our subject, but it is so closely
connected with it that it seems advisable to add a short
discussion of it to these lectures. It is, indeed, scarcely
possible to draw a strict line between the ethical teaching
of any teacher and his attitude towards the future life.
The teacher's ideal comes out in his conception of the
future life itself and of the relation in which it stands to
the hfe of action and aspiration here and now. We cannot
help facing the question whether there is anything in our
Lord's teaching upon this subject which prevents our
accepting Him as our supreme moral Authority.

Attempts are sometimes made to disparage the moral
teaching of Jesus Christ on the ground that He invited men
to be good and to do good from hope of future reward and
dread of future punishment. Sometimes it is even suggested
that such hopes and fears are set before men as the sole
motives for righteousness and the avoidance of sin. This
suggestion can, I think, be definitely refuted. Christ did
appreciate and teach the intrinsic value of goodness and
the intrinsic evil of sin. The question was, of course, one
which had never been presented to Him in the technical
language of philosophy. But the idea that goodness is to be
valued solely on account of its posthumous reward is in-

* This note is reprinted from the Modern Churchman by kind
permission of the editor.


Reward and Punishment 291

consistent with the whole tone of His teaching both about
God and about human duty. He distinctly makes the love
of God the supreme and ideal motive for goodness. You
cannot love from hope of reward or fear of punishment.
God was to Him a loving Father, intrinsically righteous and
beneficent ; and that is quite inconsistent with the theory
that the divine commands are wholly arbitrary, that virtue
means merely the doing of what is commanded by God for
the sake of reward and the avoidance of what is forbidden
under penalties : and nothing less than this is implied in
the theory that the mere hope of reward or fear of punish-
ment are the sole motives for right conduct. But it is quite
undeniable that He did also seek to encourage men to do
right and to resist temptation by the thought of a future
life, the character of which would depend upon the use they
made of their wills in this life. If this is to be regarded as
demorahzing " Eudaemonism," most of the Morahsts who
have seriously beheved in ImmortaHty will incur the same
condemnation. There is nothing demoralizing in such
teaching if it is not made the sole or the chief motive for
virtue, and this most certainly our Lord never did. I
deliberately exclude from this enquiry all other aspects of
our Lord's " Eschatology " — the question what He meant
by the Kingdom, when and how it was to come, etc. That
question has already been discussed, so far as seemed neces-
sary, in the second lecture. We must treat the Eschatology,
for the present purpose, as a doctrine about the future hfe.
Whether this hfe was to be lived " in Heaven " or on a
regenerated earth, is a question of no ethical importance.
The hope of future blessedness has ethical value (i)
educationally, as leading up to and preparing men for a
more disinterested goodness ; (2) as affording help and
encouragement to those who are indeed hungering and
thirsting after righteousness, but are as yet far from being

292 Conscience and Christ

perfected Christians or from having (in Kantian phrase)
perfectly " autonomous " wills. (3) In so far as the reward
is thought of as itself consisting in a state of greater moral
perfection or as a happiness which is the natural and
necessary consequence of goodness, the doctrine of reward
and punishment begins to assume a form in which it is not
only consistent with the belief in the intrinsic value of
goodness, but becomes hard to distinguish from it. It is,
indeed, not the whole object of the good man to win peace
of conscience or " inward harmony " whether in this life
or the next ; but, in so far as he cares about goodness, he
will not be able to win inward peace or happiness without
it ; nobody can value goodness without valuing a good
conscience. Thus the ethical value of the behef in a future
life depends largely upon the character of the Heaven and
the Hell which it encourages men to expect. That the
Kingdom of Heaven which Christ invites men to qualify
for was thought of in a spiritual and ethical manner I
beheve to be undeniable. There is no reason why this
should not be admitted even by those who refuse to allow
that our Lord's " Eschatology " in any way went beyond
the level reached by the prophetic and apocalyptic teaching
of Judaism. The " Kingdom of Heaven " was always to
the Jew a " Kingdom of righteousness and peace," what-
ever else it may have been.

I confess I feel some indignation at the insincerity and
superficiality with which these cant objections to any moral
teaching which is connected with the hopes of a future life
are often repeated. What Moralist, except perhaps an
ultra-Kantian rigorist of a type which is not now much in
fashion, objects to a teacher trying to keep boys and girls
— or men and women — from yielding to temptations to
drunkenness or impurity by telling them that they will be
ruining their future happiness in this present life by so

Reward and Punishment 293

doing ? Why is happiness — whether we think of ordinary
enjoyment or of higher aesthetic and intellectual pleasures,
of human affections or of peace of conscience — any the less
valuable or less noble because it is thought of as lasting
for ever ? Undoubtedly the idea of " right for the sake of
right " — of the perseitas boni (as the Schoolmen called it),
of duty for duty's sake, of the autonomous will and the Uke
— was not set forth by Jesus in the abstract way in which
it has been taught by the best later philosophy, though not
always by the philosophy of those who disparage Christian
teaching on this head. In the insistence on this idea by
later Christian teachers we may recognize a real develop-
ment of the teaching of Jesus — a development which only
brings out and emphasizes what is always impHed in the
teaching of the Master Himself. This is doubtless one of
the truths which have been brought out into fuller light by
the later work of the Spirit in the Church, but it is clearly
imphcit in His own teaching. If we ask ourselves how the
relation between virtue and its " reward " presented itself
to Jesus Himself, the following remarks of Mr. Montefiore
probably get as near to His real conception as we shall
succeed in doing : —

" It may also be observed that the ' eudaemonism ' of
the beatitudes is of a special kind. They do not say, ' Do
this, or be this, because you will gain a reward,' or, ' do not
do this because you will be punished.' But they say, ' A
certain line of action, a certain disposition of mind
bring happiness now and hereafter.' The result follows
necessarily from the cause. It is the law of God. ' Heaven'
and happiness follow as certainly from goodness as their
opposites follow from wickedness. The one is not an
arbitrarily added reward ; the other is not an arbitrarily
added punishment. The result is contained in the pre-

294 Conscience and Christ

miss, as surely as the result of health-giving medicines
or death-dealing drugs is already contained within them.
The bliss of virtue, both ' now ' and ' hereafter,' is a
continuous state, and not a something added ab extra to
form a reward, and mutatis mutandis, the same may be
said of vice. Thus the sting of the supposed ' eudaemon-
ism ' is removed." ^

It is not, indeed, and could not truthfully be asserted
that peace of conscience or " the goodwill," is all that is
necessary to happiness, and anyone who believes that the
Power who rules the world is loving cannot but believe
that the other things necessary to happiness will ultimately
be added for those who already possess this its most
essential element, and so much was certainly taught by
our Lord.

Much more might very well be said upon this most
important topic, but my special object in these pages is to
ask : " What was the actual teaching of Jesus as to the
duration of future punishment ? " Mr. Montefiore, who so
admirably defends our Lord from the charge of eudae-
monism, expresses great horror at what he supposes to be
His teaching about everlasting punishment, a doctrine
which even orthodox modern Judaism has repudiated.
Upon this subject I would make the following remarks : —

(i) I should like to begin by stating quite definitely that
the doctrine of everlasting punishment — in its ordinary,
traditional acceptation — presents us with a view of the
character of God so clearly revolting to the modern con-
science, and so inconsistent with the general teaching of
our Lord Himself about the Love of God, that we could
not accept it in deference to any external authority what-
ever. I make this remark in order that I may not be
^ The Synoptic Gospels, II, p. 485.

Reward and Punishment 295

accused of approaching the subject with a fixed deter-
mination neither to accept the doctrine of everlasting
punishment, nor to question the view usually accepted by
Christians as to the moral authority of their Master. If
Jesus did indeed teach the doctrine of everlasting punish-
ment, and meant by it what the words naturally and
obviously suggest, modern Christians would have to
recognize in such an unquestioning acceptance of a
traditional Jewish view another of those limitations of
His knowledge which in some matters Orthodoxy itself
has been compelled to acknowledge. It is not perhaps quite
inconceivable — if we approach the subject without pre-
suppositions — that He might have taught the traditional
view in the traditional words without seeing how incon-
sistent it was with His own conception of the loving Father
who is always ready to forgive the penitent ; but anyone
who takes a high view of the ethical elevation of Christ's
teaching — even apart from any theological or Christo-
logical theory about His divine nature ^ — is justified in
approaching the subject with a strong indisposition to
believe that He did so.

(2) All the teaching whether about future reward or
future punishment is of a metaphorical character. If the
Messianic banquet is not to be taken in a naively reahstic
sense (and even some Rabbis taught that the ** eating and
drinking " were not to be taken literally ^), neither is the

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Online LibraryHastings RashdallConscience & Christ : six lectures on Christian ethics → online text (page 21 of 23)