Copyright
Hastings Rashdall.

Conscience & Christ : six lectures on Christian ethics online

. (page 4 of 23)
Online LibraryHastings RashdallConscience & Christ : six lectures on Christian ethics → online text (page 4 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


or less measure, lighteth every man : and it was
that light to which He appealed as the supreme sanction
for His claims. But it is not so much upon any detailed
passage that I would rely as upon the spirit of His
whole teaching. Habitually He assumes that, though
men did require to have the truth about Morality set
before them, though it had never been set before them
so fully as He felt Himself able to reveal it, yet when it
was set before them, they were capable of recognizing
its truth. " Why even of yourselves judge ye not
what is right? "- The words occur incidentally in a
somewhat obscure passage, but they only recognize a
power of moral judgement which is impHed in the whole
of our Lord's best-authenticated teaching. He did not
ask men to obey his precepts except in so far as their

1 Matt. vi. 22 (=Luke xi. 34, 35).
« Luke xii. 57.



Moral Philosophy and Moral Authority 35

Consciences bore independent witness to their truth.
Doubtless He thought of that inner Ught in other men
as coming from the same heavenly Father who had in
an exceptional way spoken in the Old Testament Scrip-
tures and was speaking also in Him : but it was a
voice within, not a merely external voice, to which He
appealed in confirmation of the claim which He made
upon their allegiance. ^

^ This side of our Lord's teaching is very much developed in the
fourth Gospel. More directly than any of the Synoptists the
Evangelist appeals to the " works " in attestation of Christ's
claim, but after all the appeal to the works comes second : "Or
else believe me for the very works' sake " (xiv. ii).



LECTURE II
ETHICS AND ESCHATOLOGY

IN my last lecture I endeavoured to show you
that it is impossible to determine the kind of
authority which may reasonably be claimed for the
ethical teaching of our Lord in advance — before we
have examined the teaching itself. For, in His own
view, that teaching was assuredly not regarded as the
promulgation of a moral code by an external authority,
to be accepted in consequence of some already estab-
lished claim to Messiahship^ or Divinity — without
examination, without interior assent, without spon-
taneous acceptance. It was put forth as an appeal to
Conscience. Still more certainly the authority which
it possesses for us at the present day must depend
upon its own intrinsic character. In the view aUke
of His own immediate disciples and of the reflecting
Theologians of later ages, the claim of the Teacher to
be something more than one among many inspired
teachers or prophets has been based — to a very large
extent at least — upon the appeal which the teaching

* It is most probable, I think, that this claim was not definitely
made till towards the close of His Ministry, and it is doubtful how
far it was made in public at all.

36



Ethics and Eschatology 37

and the character have actually made to the moral
consciousness, upon the response which they have awak-
ened and still awaken in the human heart. I should
like to have gone on at once to examine what the
ethical teaching of Jesus actually was in detail, and
then to invite you to consider what authority it can
justly claim for the modern world. Ten years ago I
should probably have adopted that course. But in
the present state of theological thought we are liable
to be met with a preHminary objection which it will,
I think, be well to deal with in advance. We are
hable to be told that the teaching of Jesus was not
primarily ethical at all. It was primarily eschato-
logical. Its main content was simply this : the
Messianic Judgement, long foretold by prophet and
apocalyptic writer, was at last on the very point of
coming — a sudden, catastrophic, in the fullest sense
supernatural, appearance of the Messiah upon the
clouds of heaven — a violent and abrupt winding up of
the present world-order, followed by the establish-
ment of the Messianic Kingdom in an outward and
visible form whether upon a very much altered earth
or in a Heaven beyond the skies. Any ethical teaching
which the Teacher uttered was merely incidental to
this His central message : and that teaching is almost
destitute of any special value or significance for the
modern world just because it is so intimately bound
up with ideas about the Universe which we cannot
share, and with anticipations as to the future which the



38 Conscience and Christ

course of events has already shown to be delusive. ^ I
should very much have preferred to pass over these
questions in silence. I have no claim to speak as a
specialist upon this subject — a subject which involves
for its adequate discussion intimate acquaintance not
only with the difficult and compHcated Synoptic prob-
lem but with all the apocalyptic literature of later
Judaism and early Christianity. Nor do I believe
that these questions have in reality any very close
connexion with our proper subject ; but I fear that to
brush them aside and proceed to examine the ethical
teaching of the Gospels without touching upon them
would expose the lecturer to the suggestion that his
whole point of view was out of date, and that every-
thing he had said must in consequence be consigned to
the limbo of obsolete apologetics. I must therefore at
least make a short statement as to the attitude of my
own mind towards the problem, though a thorough
discussion of it will be impossible. I must be content
with giving you conclusions with no more than the
merest outline of the reasons which lead mc to them.
All students of Theology — and most of those who,



* "The truth is, it is not Jesus as historically known, but Jesus
as spiritually arisen within men, who is significant for our time and
can help it. Not the historical Jesus, but the spirit which goes
forth from Him," etc. (Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus.
E.T., p. 399). There is a sense of course in which one might
accept such statements, but if this " spirit " really " goes forth from
Him," i.e. the liistorical Jesus, there must be something in common
between the two, and this something must be capable of being dis-
tinguished from its eschatological surroundings.



Ethics and Eschatology 39

without being professed students of Theology, take
some interest in the course of theological thought and
enquiry — are aware of the great change which has
taken place in the prevailing attitude towards what
are called the eschatological sayings of the Gospels —
that is to say, the predictions alleged to have been
uttered by our Lord about His own future coming
again, about the Judgement which that coming would
inaugurate, and that supernatural winding up of the
existing order of things which is popularly spoken of
as the end of the world. Conservative Theology has
never of course doubted that these sayings were
actually uttered : and, as regards the central event,
it has been disposed to understand them very literally.
The Master is reported to have said that He would
come again seated on the clouds of heaven. Con-
servative and orthodox Theology has always assumed
that that prediction would be literally fulfilled. All
that is said in the Gospels as to the second coming of
Christ, as to the Judgement, and the physical catas-
trophes which should precede, accompany, or follow
that Judgement have been understood with almost
equal literalness, or at all events in the most uncom-
promisingly supernatural sense. On the other hand, the
passages which seemed to speak of these events as
impending in the very near future — before the disciples
had gone over the cities of Israel or in the lifetime of
those who listened to Jesus — were explained either by
understanding the " coming " (so far as those particular



40 Conscience and Christ

passages were concerned) in some spiritual sense or
by referring them to that approaching destruction of
Jerusalem which was regarded as a sort of preliminary
anticipation or first instalment of the final Judgement.
When we come to the nature of the Kingdom, there has
been much diversity of opinion. Some passages were
understood as referring to the establishment of the
Kingdom by the missionary work of the Apostles on
this earth ; and the main difference of opinion among
orthodox thinkers has been as to how far they were to
be understood in a spiritual sense of a Kingdom of
Christ in the hearts of the individual believer or in the
invisible aggregate of believers, or how far the King-
dom might be identified frankly and without more
ado with the visible, organized, hierarchically governed
Church. But there were other passages in which the
estabhshment of the Kingdom was so closely con-
nected with a judgement of a supernatural character
that the Kingdom had there to be understood as a
new order of things to be established — after the judge-
ment — whether on this earth or (from the time when
" Millenarianism " came to be looked upon as here-
tical) more usually " in heaven."

The* tendency of "liberal" thought until recently
has been towards a more complete spiritualization of
this eschatological teaching. Theologians like Frederick
Denison Maurice and his followers were inclined to
explain in a spiritual sense the whole idea of the
" coming " and " the Kingdom." The Kingdom



Ethics and Eschatology 41

meant for them a gradual remoulding of human
society in accordance with the ideas of Christ. The
coming was to be gradual, though it might include
catastrophic episodes — startling historical events which
constituted peculiarly signal exhibitions of that divine
judgement of the world which was always going on for
those who had spiritual eyes to see it. In particular
passages there might be a reference to the destruction
of Jerusalem as one of the first and most significant
of the epochs or stages in the continuous world-judge-
ment ; while others might be understood as a dramatic
embodiment of that judgement of God upon individual
souls which gradually takes place as each one dies and
stands before what was metaphorically described as the
judgement seat of God. Maurice belonged to that
school of pre-critical Liberalism which was peculiarly
English. Such men knew Httle of the critical work of
their German contemporaries, and there was practically
no such thing as higher criticism in English Univer-
sities or among English theological writers. English
liberalizing writers were content for the most part to
accept the recorded words of Christ as substantially
authentic, and to limit their criticism of the traditional
BibHcism to the substitution of a moderate and a
spiritual for a mechanical or verbal theory of Inspira-
tion. More advanced Liberals were disposed to deny
that the more intractable eschatological sayings were
really uttered by our Lord, and to put down the
apocalyptic imagery and colouring, when it could not



4^ Conscience and Christ

with any plausibility be spiritualized, to the influence
upon the minds of the Apostles and the Evangelists of
narrow Jewish ideas, the existence of which in other
minds than that of Jesus they had no desire to
conceal.

During the last few years there has been a much
closer study of the Synoptic problem on the one hand
and of the apocalyptic literature on the other — of
Daniel and the Revelation of St. John within the
Canon and of that group of extra-canonical writings —
some of them only recently edited — of which the
Book of Enoch is the best-known representative. And
the result is that Theologians have for the most part
become convinced that the apocalyptic and eschato-
logical element in the teaching of Jesus cannot be so
easily disposed of. The tendency of the older Liberal-
ism was to spiritualize as much as possible, and either
to explain away or to reject what was non-spiritual.
Now a precisely opposite disposition prevails. The
more "advanced," the more liberal, the more emanci-
pated a Theologian claims to be, the more probable is
it that he will insist on regarding as authentic, and on
explaining in the most literal sense, every saying of
Christ that could possibly be understood as having an
eschatological significance. It is just the prima facie
more spiritual, more ethical sayings that are explained
away or rejected as ecclesiastical insertions. By the
fashionable school of German Eschatologists which has
culminated in Schweitzer, and by the Catholic Modern-



Ethics and Eschatology 43

ists of the Loisy type, the older Liberahsm is now
accused of having made of Jesus a German Uberal
Protestant. The historical reality, we are told, was
very different. In the view of Jesus Himself — accord-
ing to Schweitzer and his stricter followers ^ — His
whole message was primarily Eschatology. He con-
ceived of Himself not as Messiah in some new, spirit-
ualized, transfigured sense but in the literal sense of
Jewish Apocalyptic. And he accepted that role with
all its consequences and all its concomitants. He
expected a catastrophic judgement in the near future.
He faced — some of them say He courted — death in
order to hurry on the miraculous interposition which
He expected to follow or to prevent it. His hopes were
disappointed : His cry of agony on the Cross was the
cry of one who had expected a supernatural deliver-
ance, and found it not. He really felt Himself forsaken
of God. All His teaching about the Kingdom refers
to the expected future personal reign of Himself, the
Messiah, after the Judgement at which He was Himself
to preside. It was to be a Kingdom of a very material,
though a very supernatural, kind — to be set up sud-
denly and catastrophically. He had no thought of a
gradual permeation of Jewish society by His teaching
— still less of a conversion of the Gentile world to His
principles. His moral and religious teaching, what

1 Loisy is less extreme in his Eschatology. He doubts many
sayings which Schweitzer accepts, and he has more respect for the
ethical teaching of Christ.



44 Conscience and Christ

there was of it, was not much in advance of the higher
rabbinic teaching of His time. His ethical precepts
consisted merely of very simple instructions for the
behaviour of His followers during the few months
which He expected to intervene before the Judgement.
It was a mere " Interimsethik " — as the phrase is —
of little value, or even interest, for us at the present day
who know His Messianic ideas to be a delusion and
anticipate no catastrophic judgement or sudden "end
of the world." i

What are we to say to these new ideas ?

(i) In the first place as to the critical basis. I have
no time to enter upon a discussion of particular pas-
sages, but I must confess that I am still very sceptical
as to the more definite sayings — the sayings which
profess to indicate the exact time of the coming
Judgement. Not one of them belongs to what is per-
haps the best attested stratum of Synoptic tradition.
Not one certainly belongs to the source now known as
Q — that is to say, to the original document which
underUes the sayings common to Matthew and Luke.
If we put aside the apocalyptic discourse = of which I
shall speak in a moment, not one of them which occurs

^ Of course I do not deny that these ideas are often expressed
with considerable qualifications in the writings of the ultra-
eschatologists (and with considerable exaggeration in their more
private utterances) ; but, in proportion as such writers qualify
their statements, they do not differ from the theologians whom
they criticize. Cf. Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus,
p. 239, pp. 399-401.

* Mark xiii. with ita parallels.



Ethics and Eschatology 45

in Mark is found also unaltered in the other two
Gospels. 1 And they are not consistent with one another.
In one passage our Lord is represented as saying that
His disciples would not have gone over the cities of
Israel till the Son of Man should be come (this is found
in Matthew only) '.^ at another He says that only
some of those who stood by should witness the coming,
implying that the time would not be in the very near
future.^ In the long series of predictions contained
in the thirteenth chapter of St. Mark and largely
amplified in the other two Synoptists, He speaks of a
number of false Christs as destined to come first, which
means of course that He was to disappear in some way
from the earth, and that there was thus to be a con-
siderable interval before the coming again, although
all three Synoptists here make Him say that this
generation should not pass away till all these things
came to pass. And all these passages are inconsistent



1 Unless the prediction that He would drink no more of the fruit of
the vine till He should drink it new in His Father's Kingdom (Mark
xiv. 25=Matt. xxvi. 29=Luke xxii. i8) be regarded as an exception,
and be understood in an extremely literal sense. There is again
the passage : " Ye shall not see me henceforth till ye shall say.
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord " (Matt, xxiii.
39 : Luke xiii. 35). But this passage seems to imply a disappear-
ance and a reappearance after an interval of some duration, rather
than any immediate manifestation of the Kingdom.

* Matt. X. 23. The extreme improbability that Jesus should
have spoken thus is pointed out by Loisy {Evan. Syn. I, p. 866).
See note on page 46.

3 Mark ix. i : Matt. xvi. 28 : Luke ix. 27. Luke has simply
" see the Kingdom of God." This is probably, it must be confessed,
a correction of Mark,



46 Conscience and Christ

with the express declaration that He Himself did not
know the date of the Judgement, but only the Father.^
This last is one of the five " pillar-texts " which
Schmiedel treats as the most certain of all the sayings
of Jesus, because the least likely to be invented by a
disciple or by the unconscious growth of tradition.
All the others may quite conceivably be attempts made
by successive generations of Christian teachers at once
to adjourn the date of the Coming and to reassure the
waning hopes of Christ's followers. * The thirteenth
chapter of St. Mark is obviously, according to some
even of the more eschatological critics, a Jewish-
Christian Apocalypse variously amplified and touched

^ Matt. xxiv. 36 : Mark xiii. 32. Luke no doubt omits the saying
as derogatory to the omniscience of Jesus. It may be suggested
that this means merely "He did not know the exact date," but
to say that the Judgement should come before a tour of Palestine
could be completed was surely to claim a very exact knowledge,
hardly less so to say it would come within some forty years.

' The saying most difficult to account for, " Ye shall not have
gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come," is found,
only in Matthew (x. 23). Sayings found in Matthew alone are the
most doubtful of all the words put into our Lord's mouth, especially
when they can be explained as " ecclesiastical additions." Schweitzer
treats this as an actual saying which was meant literally. Jesus
was disappointed when the disciples returned, and the kingdom
had not come. But the context should be remembered : " When
they persecute you in this city, flee ye into the next, for verily I
say unto you ye shall not," etc. The disciples were in little danger
of persecution at this time. The situation presupposed by this
verse, as by much else in Matthew's version of this discourse, is
that of the disciples during their later Palestinian mission. The
Evangelist evidently means the whole mission of the Church to
be understood as a continuation of the first and original mission
of the Twelve during the earthly life of their Master. The date
contemplated is therefore much the same as that implied by " This
generation shall not pass away."



Ethics and Eschatology 47

up in the different Synoptists by a succession of hands.
It may contain genuine sayings of Christ, but it cannot
be treated as conclusive evidence as to the way
in which Christ Himself spoke of His ''coming."
Even the earliest version in Mark assumes that a not
inconsiderable time will elapse between the departure
of Jesus and His return. If we accepted it as genuine, it
would positively disprove the notion that Jesus looked
for a quite immediate Parousia. The succession of
false Christs could not be expected while Jesus was
still with His disciples or in any very short period after
His departure. With regard to the declaration before
the High Priest it may plausibly be argued that critical
probability is in favour of the Matthew-Mark version,
according to which our Lord says : *' Henceforth ye
shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of
power and coming with the clouds of heaven," though
Luke's account has simply " from now shall the Son
of Man be seated at the right hand of the power of
God."i But what are the probabihties of the exact
words of Jesus at the Judgement-seat being accurately
preserved by any tradition whatever ? It seems that
none of His disciples was present. How infinitely
greater were the probabilities of Luther's words before
the diet of Worms being correctly remembered. Luther
spoke in an orderly assembly of hundreds or thousands,
among whom many were attached followers. Some of
these were princes or great personages, occupying

* Mark xiv. 62 (=Matt. xxvi. 64) ; Luke xxii. 69.



48 Conscience and Christ

prominent places, and all were hanging upon his words.
Yet very different versions of his words were in circula-
tion a few years after his death, and the famous " Here
I stand, I can do no other," which has become classical,
is now shown to be opposed to the testimony of an
eye-witness who wrote very shortly after the event. ^

I look then with great suspicion upon all the pas-
sages which profess to fix the date of the Judgement,
and I have also grave doubts as to the share which
Jesus personally claims for Himself in the judgement
of which He speaks. ^ It is doubtful whether He
ever spoke of Himself as the actual Judge. I think
I could give you critical grounds for these doubts if I
had time to go through the passages seriatim. But

* See Lindsay, Hist, of the Reformation, I, p. 291. " It is most
likely," says Dr. Lindsay, " that in the excitement men carried
away only a general impression and not an exact recollection
of the last words of Luther."

* That Jesus claimed to be Himself the Judge in the coming
Judgement can be established only by three parables reported in
St. Matthew — the parables of the Talents, the Sheep and the Goats,
the Tares. Only the first is in Luke also. In this (Matt. xxv. 19) we
are told that it is only " after a long time " that the Lord will
return to reckon with the servants. Either therefore we must give
up saying that Jesus expected a Parousia as immediate as is con-
tended for by Schweitzer and his uncompromising followers, or the
parable cannot be treated as in its present form an accurate repre-
sentation of His words. The Lukan version — the parable of the
ten pounds — is said to have been uttered " because he was nigh to
Jerusalem, and because they thought that the Kingdom of God
should immediately appear " (Luke xix. 11) ; and even apart from
this comment, the intention to discourage the notion of an im-
mediate Parousia is sufficiently evident. It is therefore quite
possible that in the original parable the function of the Messiah
was less distinctly that of a Judge. The parable of the Sheep and
the Goats is found in Matthew only (xxv. 31). It is based on
Enoch (cap. Ixii.), where (i), though the Messiah judges, it is not



Ethics and Eschatology 49

I do not deny that there is a residuum of truth in these
eschatological ideas. Nothing is more certain than
that the burden of Christ's earhest Gospel was that " the
Kingdom of God is at hand." And by the coming of
the Kingdom we cannot suppose Him to have meant
anything so vague as a gradual leavening of Society
by His own teaching. In the Hght of the current
apocalyptic conceptions and of His own parables, I
think we must admit that Jesus did expect a coming
of a sudden, catastrophic kind in the very near
future. I also admit the probability that before the
end — it is not probable that that was so from the first
— He had made up His mind that He was Himself
that promised Messiah ; and He therefore may very

until " the Lord of Spirits seated him on the throne of His (i.e.
God's) glory," (2) the " elect One " is not called " The King." The
King is God. Perhaps this was so in the original parable.

The third passage in which the Messiah is represented as
judging the world Himself is in the parable of the Tares (or
rather in the explanation of it), in which " the Son of Man


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryHastings RashdallConscience & Christ : six lectures on Christian ethics → online text (page 4 of 23)