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poet may teach profound truths which the speculative
philosopher may subsequently reduce to something like
a philosophy of life : but in the poet's mind they are
not, as a rule, reduced to a philosophy. And so the
greatest moral teachers of mankind have not, usually,
been speculative philosophers. That was eminently the
case with Jesus Christ and His first disciples. It is
true that an instinct of reverence is apt to blind us to
the immense amount of real, hard thinking which was
implied in the religious and moral teaching of Jesus :
the greatness, the originality of Jesus was intellectual

* On the other hand it is a great deal too much to say with
Mr. Selwyn {The Teaching of Christ, p. 79) that " there is no Chris-
tian ethic, but only a Christian spirit." If the Christian spirit (in
matters of character and conduct) is capable of articulate expres-
sion, that expression will be an Ethic, which can be to some extent
analysed and systematized by the philosopher. If it is not capable
of such expression, it would be useless to go to the Gospels to dis-
cover that spirit. A Christianity which is not capable of articulate
expression can have no connexion with History. This may be said
with the fullest allowance for the inadequacy of all formulae fully
to embody an ethical ideal.



The Ethical Teaching of Jesus Christ 79

as well as moral. But still His teaching — His re-
ligious and His ethical teaching alike — was not pre-
sented in the form either of a theological system or of
a speculative philosophy. It came to Him by way
of intuition : it was presented to His hearers in the
form of aphorism or of parable. It was homely
practical teaching addressed for the most part to people
of little culture or education, or with a culture which
was popular, intensely national, and closely connected
with Religion. In the present lecture I want to ex-
amine the actual teaching of Jesus in the form in
which He presented it to His own mind and to that
of His hearers.

It must be remembered that the teaching of Jesus
Christ presupposes a morality of a very advanced
and developed order. I must not now stay to com-
pare the ethical teaching of the Jewish prophets with
that of the other great ethical and religious systems
of the world. I shall have something to say upon
that subject hereafter. It must suffice for the present
to remark that, if we compare the teaching of the
later Judaism with the Ethics of ancient Greece and
Rome, there can be no doubt that it represents, on the
whole, a higher level than any teaching known to the
West, at least till the time of Zeno and the Stoics.
In many respects the ideal of developed Judaism
represents a higher moral standard even than that of
the two great Hellenic thinkers — Socrates and Plato —
whom we may fairly recognize as belonging, like the



8o Conscience and Christ

Jewish seers, to the goodly fellowship of the Prophets.
It was enormously superior to the intensely narrow,
civic, aristocratic moraUty of Aristotle. It was
strong just where the Greek philosophers were weakest.
The political and the intellectual development of Greece
were no doubt greatly in advance of anything known
in Israel. All those virtues which had to do with
political activity and with the intellectual life were
better understood by Socrates and Plato than by
Amos or Isaiah : and, of course, the high intellectual
development carried with it emancipation from some
superstitions in matters of conduct. But in Religion,
and in those matters of personal morality which are
apt to be most affected by the state of rehgious
feeling and religious belief, the Greeks of Aristotle's
time were mere children compared with the Jews.
The principle of Justice, in its simpler and most
elementary form constitutes, indeed, a common ground
between the civic morality of Socrates and the rehgious
morahty of Judaism. But in two great matters the
Jews were enormously in advance of the Greeks — in
the matter of Chastity and in the matter of Charity.

Whether we look to the teaching of the philosophers
or to the average practice, there can be little doubt
about the superiority of the Jews on the side of sexual
Morality. Polygamy was, indeed, allowed among the
Jews, though before the time of our Lord it had
become rare and exceptional ; and the position of
women was perhaps slightly more honourable and



The Ethical Teaching of Jesus Christ 8i

more secure in parts at least of the Greek world than
among the Jews. But the great principle which con-
fines sexual relations to lawful marriage was hardly
propounded even by Moralists among the Greeks :
it was fully acknowledged among the later Jews.
The ordinary Greek morality on this matter was
simply that extra-matrimonial intercourse must be with
non-citizen women; for that such intercourse was
profoundly degrading to the woman, the general feeling
of mankind has almost universally recognized. But
there was no sense of the intrinsic rights of Humanity
as such which could protect the non-citizen woman
from that degradation, or make it appear wrong for
the man to subject her to it. I need do no more than
allude to those still darker vices which, if they were
not exactly approved by the highest pagan morality,
were condemned with a lightness which is itself the
best evidence of their commonness even in the most
cultivated, refined, and aristocratic Greek circles.
And the higher moral teachers of the time did little
to preach a sounder morality on these matters. On
the other hand, the Jewish Law and the Jewish
prophets are full of denunciations of sexual trans-
gression of all kinds. 1 And not only the prophets. In
some respects what is called the Wisdom literature —

^ As to Adulter}', see Lev. xx. lo ; xix. 20-22. (It is doubtful
whether the penalty of death was actually carried out.) As to
Fornication, Lev. xix. 29 ; Deut. xxiii. 17, 18 ; Jer. v. 7 ; Amos
ii. 7 : Hos. iv. 14. Cf. also Gen. xiii. 13, xix. 5-7 ; Deut, xxiii. 17,
18 ; I Kings xv. 12, etc.

G



82 Conscience and Christ

the Book of Proverbs in the Canon, and the Books
of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus now relegated to the
Apocrypha — represent perhaps on the whole a lower
level of religious insight and religious enthusiasm than
the great prophetic teachers of the later Monarchy and
the Exile ; but at all events in this they show the
same superiority to the contemporary Greek morality
— that they are full of zeal for social Purity.^

In the other great matter to which I have alluded
the superiority of the Jews is still more marked. It
is a commonplace to say that the Greeks in the time
of Aristotle had very little notion of the rights of man
as such. Aristocrat and democrat might differ as to
who should be citizens, but they were agreed that the
citizens should not be the whole population : for the
rights of the barbarian or the alien Greek, the slave
or the freedman, the Athenian democrat had only
a little more tenderness than the aristocratic Aristotle,
who tells us frankly that " the work of the artisan or
the labourer has nothing to do with Virtue," and that
therefore it is best that such persons should be alto-
gether excluded from citizenship — from civil rights as
well as political rights. Even as regards citizens, the
Greek conception of one's duty towards one's neigh-
bour was for the most part limited to the idea of public

^ Prov. ii. 16-19, V. 3-6, vii. 5-27 ; Ecclus. ix. 3-9, xli. 20 ;
Wisdom iv. 6, xiv. 24, 26. The letter of the law only forbade an
Israelite woman to be a prostitute (Deut. xxiii. 17). This seems to
have led to the multiplication of foreign prostitutes. Hence the
denunciation of the " strange woman " in the Book of Proverbs,



The Ethical Teaching of Jesus Christ 83

service (in that matter they have still much to teach
modern Christians) and to the idea of Justice, that
is to say, respect for the property and other legal or
customary rights of individuals. There was little or
no feeling that there is a duty of positive service or
mutual helpfulness owed by one individual to another,
even within the ranks of the citizen-class beyond the
limited circle of one's own family or friends.

Still less was there any idea of a special claim on the
part of the weak, the oppressed, the sick, the suffering,
the poor. The duties of Philanthropy, of Almsgiving,
of Mercy are simply non-existent in the elaborate
enumeration of virtues and duties given us by Aris-
totle ; and in the far higher, more spiritual, more
cosmopolitan teaching of Socrates and Plato there
is almost as little inculcation of these virtues, if there
is less that is shocking to modern Christian sentiment
in their way of treating the ignorant and the hrmibly
born. With all his magnificent conscientiousness, his
scrupulosity about matters of conduct, and his sense
of public duty, it never seems to have occurred even
to Socrates to ask himself whether it might not be
morally binding on Society or on individuals to think
about the kind of life that was being led by his poor
fellow-citizen in the next street or by the slave in his
own household. To Plato the sick were simply objects
of dislike. The economic problems of our great cities
were hardly known in their modem form : but still
the orphan, the widow, the unfortunate have always



84 Conscience and Christ

been with us : yet (so far as we can discover) in the
time of Aristotle nobody troubled their heads about
them, either speculatively or practically. Even high-
class citizen women were not thought to matter very
much, though, of course, the Greek idea of their position
was far removed from the ordinary Oriental concep-
tion of woman as the mere toy and plaything of man.
The ethical teaching of the Socratic School reaches its
highest level in the scenes connected with the trial and
death of Socrates. Socrates died a martyr to truth
and to civic duty : yet in the Phaedo Socrates drives
his wife and children from the room with something like
brutality that his last moments might be spent in un-
disturbed philosophical converse with his male friends.
What a contrast to all this is presented by the
teaching of the Jewish prophets ! Amos lived three
centuries and a half before Socrates. He is full of
denunciation against the cruelty and oppression of
the poor, whether practised by the enemies of Israel
or by its own rulers and rich men. " For three trans-
gressions of Israel, yea, for four, I v^ill not turn away
the punishment thereof ; because they have sold the
righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes :
that pant after the dust of the earth on the head of
the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek." ^ Isaiah
lived some three centuries before Socrates. Doubtless
Socrates had a strong sense of Justice ; but it would
be difficult to find in any teaching attributed to him
* Amos ii. 6, 7.



The Ethical Teaching of Jesus Christ 85

much special tenderness for the poor or unfortunate —
any equivalent of Isaiah's " seek judgement, relieve
the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the
widow. "^ The prophet who is commonly known as
the later Isaiah lived more than a century before
Plato. The Hellenic philosopher would have sym-
pathized keenly enough with the Jewish prophet's
denunciation of superstitious confidence in sacrifices
and fasts ; but it would never have occurred to him,
in enforcing the idea that the true fast was repentance
and righteousness, to make his conduct to inferiors
the test of a man's moral position. " Is not this the
fast that I have chosen ? to loose the bonds of wicked-
ness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the
oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke ? Is
it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou
bring the poor that are cast out to thy house ? when
thou seest the naked, that thou cover him ; and that
thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh ? "^ In the
teaching of the Jewish prophets Mercy is always
closely associated with Justice in descriptions alike
of the character of God and of the character which He
requires in men. Neither Mercy nor any equivalent
of it appears in Aristotle's very detailed list of virtues ;
the nearest he gets to it is in the Equity which is only
a higher form of Justice.

In the interval between the great prophetic era and

^ Isa. i. 17.

2 Isa. Iviii. 6, 7, often assigned to a later " Trito-Isaiah."



86 Conscience and Christ

the birth of Christ a twofold change had come over
the ethical ideas of the Jews. At scarcely any other
period in the development of any nation have progress
and retrogression been so strangely mixed. On the
one hand the place of the prophet was taken by the
scribe. The customs about sacrifice and ritual and
religious observance which had originally been handed
down by oral tradition were now reduced to writing,
supplemented by highly sacerdotal additions, and
combined with earlier documents, in the books which
we call the Pentateuch. The letter of the Law came
to be surrounded with superstitious reverence. And
yet the Mosaic Law, as it was embodied in the Penta-
teuch, became in the hands of the Pharisaic scribes
only the basis of a vast superstructure of comment,
amplification, and Casuistry. The Law contained a
general command to rest upon the Sabbath : the
Pharisees developed this command into a prohibition
of the most ordinary, necessary, and even beneficent
occupations of life. It was unlawful on the Sabbath
to pluck ears of corn because that was equivalent to
reaping, or to rub them in the hand because that was
threshing, or to walk more than 2000 cubits — less
than three-quarters of a mile — because Moses had
commanded the Jews in the wilderness to remain in
their places on the Sabbath-day. And so on. The
dietetic regulations and the rules about avoiding con-
tact with a dead body, which the Jews had no doubt
inherited from primitive systems of Totemism and



The Ethical Teaching of Jesus Christ 87

Taboo, were insisted upon with a punctiliousness
which shut off the Jews from all ordinary intercourse
with Gentile neighbours. It was the fear of incurring
ceremonial pollution which drove the Pharisees to in-
sist so much upon the washing of hands before eat-
ing, upon the washing of cups and pots and the
like,^ and this carried with it unwiUingness to sit at
table with Gentiles. Even sound moral principles
were degraded and narrowed by being made to rest
upon the positive written rules of an authoritative
book, instead of being treated as the injunctions of a
Conscience which believed itself to derive its inspira-
tion directly from a living God : while an immense
host of petty observances of no real moral importance
were placed side by side with the eternal laws of
Justice and Benevolence, and this had the inevitable
result of practically throwing them into the shade and
at times of contravening them. Men were taught
(if we may accept our Lord's saying as sufficient evi-
dence of the fact) how to avoid supporting their
parents by taking a vow not to give them anything, ^ how

^ Mark vii, 4. But we are told that this is an exaggeration.

^ According to Mr. Herford {Pharisaism, p. 159) " If a man make
a vow upon a matter between himself and his parents, i.e. one which,
if he kept it, will occasion injury or loss to them, then he is to be
released from it on the ground of honour to his parents. The
commentators on the Mishnah all agree in this interpretation, and
there is no doubt as to the intention of the Mishnah. Moreover,
there is no indication that there ever had been a different opinion,
as if the statement now made in the Mishnah had taken the place
of an earlier statement. There is no evidence that the Pharisees
ever held or taught the doctrine attributed to them by Jesus,
while it is contradicted in the most definite manner by the declara-



88 Conscience and Christ

to cheat their neighbours by taking oaths which had no
binding force, how to neglect the duties of Charity and
Mercy under pretence of observing the Sabbath, and
so on.

All this represented serious moral retrogression.
Legalism took the place of Morality. Many qualifica-
tions might be required if we were dealing with the
question of rabbinical Morahty in detail. No doubt
it is possible to quote from the Rabbis passages in
which the comparative unimportance of ceremonial
as compared with moral transgression is insisted
upon ; but still the existence of an extreme over-
estimate of the letter of the ceremonial Law is hardly
denied by any student of the Talmud : the pages of

tions of their own legal authorities." When Mr. Herford says " There
is no evidence," he seems to overlook the evidence of the Gospels
themselves. It is difficult to understand how the saying of Jesus
is to be accounted for if the other view had absolutely no supporters.
It may well be that it was at no time the accepted view. The Talmud
was of course not put into its present form till centuries later ;
and, however much we may be disposed to trust the attribution of
particular sayings to the Rabbis of an earlier period, it is unreason-
able to suppose that all their opinions were preserved. This was
one wliich later Rabbis might well wish to have forgotten. As
Mr. Montefiore remarks, " It is not at all improbable that so vast
an innovation as the annulment of vows met with opposition at
first " (The Synoptic Gospels, I, p. i66). According to the same writer
" ' Corban ' does not mean that the property was dedicated to the
use of the Temple. The word is used as a mere oath. When I say,
' Corban, if you shall ever eat anything that is mine,' that does not
mean that my eatables are dedicated to the use of the Temple, in which
case neither I nor you might eat them, but merely that, so far as
you are concerned, they are ' dedicated ' ; you may never eat what
is mine. I should sin in letting you eat any of my food, so long as
the vow stands, and you, if you ate, would sin also. The Temple
does not come in " (I.e., p. 1O4).



The Ethical Teaching of Jesus Christ 89

the Gospels would be sufficient evidence of the fact,
even if we had no other : for, though Christian com-
pilers may have exaggerated this side of Judaism, they
could not have invented it. The antagonism to
Judaism to which such representations would have
to be ascribed, if nrt justified by the facts, could not
have existed but fv r the bitter conflict between Jews
and Jewish Christians on this matter of the ceremonial
Law.

And yet the enormous change which took place
during this somewhat obscure period in the mental
history of Judaism was not all retrogression. After
all the Law did contain the most essential principles
of Justice and neighbourly conduct, though it con-
tained much besides. Reverence for the Law was,
after all, reverence for Morality, though sometimes
the moral precepts which it enshrined were spoiled
by the company in which they found themselves.
I must not now speak of the religious changes which
took place during this period further than to notice
that they were, in part at least, changes which made
for righteousness. There was a growth in the con-
sciousness of Jehovah's goodwill not merely to Israel
collectively, but to the individual Israelite. And that
carried with it the belief in individual responsibiUty.
In the teaching of Ezekiel the belief in a mere collec-
tive or family responsibility (" the fathers have eaten
sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge ")
was superseded by the idea of a divine Justice which



go Conscience and Christ

took account of individual acts : " the soul that
sinneth, it shall die.''^ During the Exile and the
Dispersion, worship was spirit Ucdized ; the Synagogue
for a time took the place of the Temple, and continued
side by side with it after the Return : the Scribe — the
expounder of the Law, the teacher of righteousness,
the preacher of ReUgion — became more important
than the sacrificing Priest. Prayer and reading and
meditation — spiritual modes of worship which could
be practised anywhere — overshadowed in importance
the sacrificial ritual of Jerusalem. And all this did
carry with it a deeper feeling of the importance of
personal conduct, a deeper sense of sin, a more anxious
conscientiousness. All these things imply a moral
advance, and paved the way for the spiritual revolution
which transformed Judaism into Christianity. It may
be that on the whole the progress of this age was far
greater than the retrogression. =

And if we look to the details of the Moral Law,
there too we see advance. If we compare the prophets
with the apocryphal books of later Judaism — both
those accepted as deutero-canonical and those which

^ Ezek. xviii. 3, 4.

* " It is high time to put away altogether, as one of the exploded
errors of history, the notion that Ezra, by the exaltation of the
Torah to the supreme place in Jewish religion, set that religion upon
the down-grade. I believe it to be nearer the truth to say that
after Moses and Isaiah (or perhaps Jeremiah) Ezra is the third
greatest man in the Old Testament" [Heriord, Pharisaism, p. 74).
This may be so ; still, we need not look beyond the Book of Ezra
itself to see that the religiousness of Ezra and his age had its
deficiencies.



The Ethical Teaching of Jesus Christ 91

have never found their way into any Canon — there
can be no doubt that this latest age of Judaism was
an age of ethical progress. There is less of ethical
inspiration, far less of reUgious inspiration ; but if
we tried to compile a code of duties out of the Old
Testament, and then compiled a similar code from the
Apocrypha, the latter would come considerably nearer
to a modern and a Christian formulation of the whole
duty of man. The prophetic insistence upon personal
and upon social Morality becomes more detailed and
more exacting. The general inculcation of beneficence
to individuals is translated into definite precepts
about the rehef of the sick,^ of widows and orphans, of
the poor and helpless ; systematic almsgiving ^ becomes
a recognized duty. If we would judge this period
aright, we must remember the enormous capacity of
the human mind for inconsistency. The very same
^ teachers who spoiled Judaism by their legaHsm, their
ceremonialism, their casuistry, were quite capable of
appreciating the best elements of Old Testament
teaching and even of improving upon them. Doubt-
less there were different schools and tendencies even
among the teachers of the same period. The Greek-

* " Also to the poor man stretch out thy hand, that thy blessing
may be perfected " (Ecclus. vii. 32). " Be not slow to visit a sick
man" (ih., 35).

2 " As thy substance is, give alms of it according to thine abund-
ance : if thou have little, be not afraid to give alms according to
that little " (Tobit iv. 8). There is of course a superstitious side to
this insistence upon Almsgiving, e.g. " Almsgiving will make an
atonement for sins " (Ecclus. iii. 30).



92 Conscience and Christ

Jewish writer of Wisdom and the Hebrew writer of
Ecclesiasticus were on the whole perhaps more Hberal
and more enhghtened than many of the Rabbis whose
teachings survive in the Talmud. Among the Rabbis
themselves the School of Hillel may have been more
liberal than the School of Shammai, and so on. And
there is one writing of this period which stands abso-
lutely alone in its close approach to the teaching of
Jesus. In the prominence which it gives to the
love of God and one's neighbour, in its inculcation of
forgiveness — even to enemies — in its insistence upon
purity of heart and intention, the " Testaments of the
Twelve Patriarchs " may be taken as representing
the highest ideal that the world ever knew before
the coming of Christ. And it is a work which, it is
highly probable, Jesus had actually read.^ There are
many different moral levels among the Jewish writers
of this period. And yet it is probable that it was very
often the same men who taught the things which excited

* The date of the original work is fixed by Dr. Charles as between
109 and 105 B.C. The Jewish additions belong chiefly to the period
70-40 B.C. There are Christian interpolations which long caused
the whole work to be assigned to a Christian writer. Here are
a few of its noblest precepts which are not interpolations : " Love
ye one another from the heart; and, if a man sin against thee,
speak peaceably to him, and in thy soul hold not guile ; and if he
repent and confess, forgive him " (Gad. vi. 3) : Issachar (vii. 6) is
made to say, " I loved the Lord ; likewise also every man with all


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