Ian Maclaren.

The mind of the Master online

. (page 11 of 15)
Online LibraryIan MaclarenThe mind of the Master → online text (page 11 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Kingdom of God.* Before His betrayal Jesus
administered a sacrament that was to last till His
second coming. After He rose from the dead
He commanded His disciples to evangelise the
world. He did not hesitate to say that all men
would be drawn to Him, who was a synonym
for Righteousness, Joy and Peace. Jesus hoped
the best, not for the individual only, but also
for the Race.

The grounds for Jesus* sublime optimism


were three, and the first was tlie will of God.
With the extreme left of pessimism Jesus
believed that there was a Will at the heart of
the universe working slowly, constantly, and
irresistibly. But it is not blind, immoral,
impersonal — mere Titanic force. It is the ex-
pression and energy of Love. This Will might
appear under strange phenomena, might impose
great sufferings, might have immense restraint,
but it works for goodness. It might send Jesus
to the Cross, but now and ever it was a sure
and gracious Will. The future lay in that Will
and must be bright. It was an ancient Father
that said, * God works all things up into what
is better ; ' and a modern heretic who declared,
* God, who spent ages in fitting the earth for
the residence of man, may well spend ages
more in fitting rectified man to inhabit a
renovated earth.* This was the faith and
patience of Jesus.

Jesus also believed in man, and therein he
differed from the pessimists of His own day.
The Pharisees regarded the mass of people as
moral refuse, the unavoidable waste from the
finished product of Pharisaism. With Jesus
the common people were the raw material for


the Kingdom of God, rich in the possibilities of
sainthood. When Jesus made His own Apologia
in the 15th chapter of St. Luke's Gospel, He
also offered their apology for the people. They
were not callous and hopeless sinners, only
sheep that have wandered from the fold, and
know not the way back ; not useless and worth-
less human stuff, but souls that carried beneath
the rust and grime the stamp of their birth,
and might be put out at usury ; not outcasts
whose death would be a good riddance, but
children loved and missed in their Father's
House. This wreck, Jesus perpetually insisted,
is not the man — only his lower self, ignorant,
perverted, corrupt ; the other self lies hidden
and must be released. That is the real self,
and when it is released you come to the man.
* When he came to himself,* said Jesus of the
prodigal. This was Jesus* reading of publicans
and sinners, — the pariahs of that civilisation.
He moved among the people with a sanguine
expectation ; ever demanding achievements of
the most unlikely, never knowing when He
might be gladdened by a response. An un-
wavering and unbounded faith in humanity sus-
tained His heart and transformed its subjects.


Zacchitus, the hated tax-gatherer, makes a vast
surrender, and shows also that he is a son of
Abraham. St. Mary Magdalene, the byword
of society, has in her the passion of a saint.
St. Matthew abandons a custom-house to write
a Gospel. St. John leaves his nets to become
the mystic of the ages. St. Peter flings off his
weakness, and changes into the rock of the
Church. With everything against him, Jesus
treated men as sons of God, and His optimism
has had its vindication.

Jesus' attitude of hope rested also on His
ideal of Life. His own disciples could not
enter into His mind or see with His eyes.
Modern reformers have sadly missed His stand-
point. Laden with reproach and injury. He
seemed to His friends the victim of intolerable
ill-usage. As the Cross loomed in sight they
besought Him to save Himself. They pitied
Him who did not pity Himself; they were
furious for Him who was Himself satisfied.
For life with Jesus was not meat and drink, nor
ease and honour. It was the perfection of the
soul, and the way unto this high goal was the
Cross. If suffering was the will of God, then it
is a good in disguise ; if it be the discipline of


holiness, it is to be welcomed. The Son of man
must be crucified before He can rise in power.
He must fall as a corn of wheat into the ground
before He can bring forth much fruit. This
was the order of things for Him and for all
men, and out of the baptism of fire men will
come clean souls. Jesus did not ignore the
black shadow of sin ; He did not fall into the
sickly optimism of last century. Jesus did not
regard man as the sport of a cruel Fate ; He
did not yield to the gloomy pessimism which is
settling down on this dying century. He
illuminated the darkness of human misery with
the light of a Divine purpose, and made the
evidence for despair an argument for hope.

It must be admitted that Jesus had moods,
and in one of them He sometimes lost heart.
One cannot forget the gloom of certain
parables : — the doom of the fruitless tree ; the
execution of the wicked husbandman ; the
casting out of the unprofitable servant ; the
judgment on the uncharitable. He once
doubted whether there would be faith at His
coming; He prophesied woe to Capernaum;
He wept over Jerusalem ; He poured out His
wrath on the Pharisees. But it was not about


the world — the Samaritan woman, the mother
from Tyre, the Roman centurion — His faith
failed. It was about the Church — the Priests,
the Scribes, the Pharisees, the Rulers. It
remains for ever g, solemn warning that while
the Church is continually tempted to lose hope
of the world, the one section of humanity of
which Jesus despaired was the Church.

When one turns for facts to verify Jesus' op-
timism, the handiest, although not the most
conclusive, is the growth of the Christian
Church. The Church is to the kingdom what
the electric current is to electricity. It is the
kingdom organised for worship and aggres-
sion ; it is the kingdom coming to a point and
reduced to machinery. You could have the
kingdom without the Church, and that day
may come ; you could have no Church without
the kingdom. The Church is a rough index of
the spread and vitality of the kingdom, and
no one can deny that the history of the Church
has been the outstanding phenomenon of
modern times. It began with a handful of
Jewish peasants, cast out by their own nation,
and it embarked on a march of unparalleled
conquest. From Jerusalem to Antioch, from.


Antioch to Asia, from Asia to Rome, this new
unworldly faith made its victorious way, and
from Rome to the ends of the earth. There is
almost no land now where the Church has not
sent her missionaries, has not planted her
standard, has not enrolled her converts ; and if
there be such, it is watched with greedy eyes.
Her weakness, her failings, her blunders, her
sins, have been patent to all, but they have
only served to prove how prolific were the
sources that recruited her shattered ranks, how
constant the force that made itself felt through
so imperfect an instrument. There are great
religions on the earth besides the Church, but
they have seen their best days, and have begun
to decay. The faith of Jesus is moving to its
zenith. There are strong empires to-day divid-
ing the world between them, but none will
venture to say that one of them is so likely to
live as the Church Catholic. Her increase may
be by thousands or millions, but it is evident
she has no serious rival to dispute her final
triumph, no hopeless hindrance save her own

But no one can have understood Jesus, who
concludes that the Church embraces the king-


dom of God. Are there not many persons who
have no formal connection with the Church,
and yet are keeping the commandments of
Jesus, and have the hkcness of His character ?
They have not been baptized in His Name,
but they follow in His steps; they do not
show forth His Name, but they die daily in His
service. They have been born into a Christian
atmosphere ; they have inherited the Christian
nature ; they have responded to the Christian
spirit. What is one to say about these Samari-
tans ? They do not answer to their names at
the temple with the Priests and Levites, and
therein they may have suffered loss ; but they
show well on the roadside where the sick man
is lying. What did Jesus mean by His marked
approbation of the Samaritans? It was not
that He thought them right in their separation
from the Jewish Church, and He spoke plainly
on that matter to the Samaritan woman. It
was to show that life was deeper than forms,
and that incorrect doctrine may be consistent
with the noblest character.

The kingdom Jesus imagined is wider even
than the sphere of Christendom, and extends
where men have owed nothing to the subtle


strain of Christian heredity. In that great
Mogul Emperor Akbar, who in the sixteenth
century had discovered the principle of relig-
ious toleration : those Moslem saints whose fine
charity is embodied in the legend of Abou-ben-
Adhem : in the renunciation of Buddha, the
light of Asia : that Roman Emperor, whom
the young men called * Marcus my father,' the
old men ' Marcus my son,' the men of middle
age ' Marcus my brother,' — in such lives one
recognises the distinctive qualities of the king-
dom. It is surely a narrow mind, and worse —
a narrow heart — that would belittle the noble
sayings that fell from the lips of outside saints
or discredit the virtues of their character. Is
it not more respectful to God, the Father of
mankind, and more in keeping with the teach-
ing of the Son of man, to believe that every-
where and in all ages can be found not only
the prophecies and broken gleams, but also the
very children of the kingdom? In Clement's
noble words, * Some with the consciousness
of what Jesus is to them, others not as yet ;
some as friends, others as faithful servants,
others barely as servants.'

The Sermon on the Mount is the measure of


Jesus* optimism, and its gradual fulfilment His
justification. His ideas have matured in the
human consciousness, and are now bursting
into flower before our eyes. Thoughtful men
of many schools are giving their mind to the
programme of Jesus, and asking whether it
ought not to be attempted. The ideal of Life,
one dares now to hope, is to be realised within
measurable distance, and the dreams of the
Galilean Prophet become history.

When the kingdom comes in its greatness, it
will fulfil every religion and destroy none, clear-
ing away the imperfect and opening up reaches
of goodness not yet imagined, till it has gath-
ered into its bosom whatsoever things are true
and honest and just and pure and lovely. It
standeth on the earth as the city of God with
its gates open by night and by day, into which
entereth nothing that defileth, but into which
is brought the glory and power of the nations.
It is the natural home of the good ; as Zwin-
gli, the Swiss reformer, said in his dying con-
fession, ' Not one good man, one holy spirit,
one faithful soul, whom you will not then be-
hold with God.'




It is an attractive theory that the spiritual
dominates the physical, and the soul, in the
long-run, selects its own body: it is an evident
fact that life is created by thought, and every
action has its root in the Unseen. What one
thinks to-day, he will do to-morrow ; and the
first equipment for living is a creed. No one
is so simple that he does not hold some article
firmly — it may be attachment to his tribe : no
one is so liberal that he has cleansed his house
of every article — he will possibly deny the
knowledge of God. Totemism and agnosti-
cism are the extremes of belief ; but the im-
mense variety between those brackets proves
that whether one affirms or denies, he must
have a belief as he must have a home. His-
tory proves the necessity of a creed : experi


encc proves its effect. As the light of the sun
colours the tiniest blade of grass, so the idea in
the background of the mind tinges every detail
of life. We grant that a man's theology will
be built on his belief, and will follow its lines
to the highest pinnacle. This is a grudging con-
cession, a limited analysis. The whole energy of
a human life, however it may have been fed on
the way, and whatever common wheels it may
turn, arises from the spring among the hills.
Belief gives the trend to politics, constitutes
the rule of business, composes the atmosphere
of home, and creates the horizon of the soul.
It becomes the sovereign arbiter of our desti-
nies, for character itself is the precipitate of be-

Belief, within the sphere of religion, has a
wide range, but its centre is God. Tell me
what is your conception of God, and I will
work out your doctrine of man, of forgiveness,
of life, of punishment. Given the axioms, and
geometry is only a question of process. Given
your God, and your whole theology can be
constructed within a measurable time. The
chief service of a prophet is not to rebuke sin,
nor instruct in virtue : it is to give the world a


radiant idea of God. Has he no word on God ?
Then his silence is irreparable — every other
doctrine will be isolated and fruitless. Has he
a fitting idea of God ? Then his blank chap-
ters can be supplied ; they are contained in the
introduction. If a prophet deal after a satisfy-
ing fashion with the idea of God, he will be
permanent. If a prophet complete and crown
the idea of God, he will be final. Many may
expound him : none can transcend him. Jesus
taught the world various principles of religion
— the nature of faith, the glory of sacrifice, the
secret of peace, the strength of love. These
were the splendid incidents of His Gospel.
The Gospel of Jesus was the revelation of God.
Jesus availed Himself of what existed, and
began with the assumption of God. He never
fell into the banality of theology, and set Him-
self to prove the existence of God, which is as
if a geologist should introduce his science with
an argument for the reality of the world.
When one has to begin before the beginning,
he is filled with despair, for that way lies mad-
ness. We are entitled to take some things for
granted, as, for instance, the evidence of our
senses and the teaching of an instinct. Belief


in God is an instinct, a part of the constitution
of the soul. It may be confirmed and illus-
trated : it must not be proved, for the proof of
an instinct is its denial. When Jesus said God,
He appealed to the belief latent in every
human being, and called it into a nobler exer-
cise. He did not create the idea of God — He
illumined it.

Jesus availed Himself also of what had been
done, and accepted that character of God,
which was the discovery of ancient piety. As
the belief in God began with the first father of
the Race, the doctrine of God began with the
Hebrew saints. Long centuries before Jesus,
patriarchs and prophets had been wrestling
with the problems of the Divine Being and the
Divine Name. With the sword of faith and
great travail of soul, those pioneers of religion
had conquered, foot by foot, the land of prom-
ise, and left it as an heritage unto their chil-
dren. They had extricated the idea of God
from the work of men's hands and the phenom-
ena of nature : in later days the pious Jew
guarded it from the abstractions of philosophy
and the corrosion of scepticism. This mono-
theism was not the natural tendency of the


Semite, born of the desert environment — that
ingenious naturalistic theory is now exploded ;
it was the slow, painful attainment of Hebrew
faith reinforced by the Divine Spirit. We owe
the ' Living God * to the Jew, and as often as
this sublime conception is obscured or sapped
by the eccentricities of modern speculation, the
religious consciousness must fall back on the
masculine vigour and ethical grandeur of Old
Testament thought.

The genius of the Jewish mind was not meta-
physical ; it could not have produced the Atha-
nasian Creed : it was ethical ; it is embodied in
the Ten Words. With the Jew, therefore, God
was not abstract Being — the First Cause of
things. He was actual character, the * Holy
One of Israel.' Jehovah dwelt in the high and
holy place, and with him also of a humble and
contrite heart ; and if He ' maketh the clouds
His chariot,' and * walketh upon the wings of
the winds,' His 'righteousness is like the great
mountains,' His * judgments are a great deep.*
There grew in the consciousness of this people
the idea of a God who was not only real — no
carved and painted log of prophetical satire, but
also moral — no complacent deity tasting the


sweetness of his worshippers* sins. They veri-
fied His character in the disasters that followed
national corruption, in the swift recoveries that
rewarded national repentance. In the mirror
of a cleansed conscience the prophets saw the
face of God ; they traced His life in the proc-
esses of righteousness. We fail sometimes to
appreciate the force of this discovery ; we forget
to imagine the surprise. With moderns, Deity
and virtue are synonymous; with ancients,
deities and vice were synonymous. Upon two
hills only was the Divine raised above the

' Howling senses' ebb and flow.*

One was the Acropolis where the golden shaft
in Athene's hand guided the mariner passing
Salamis. The other was the Holy Hill where
Jehovah remained the refuge of every righteous
man. But the advantage lay with the Jew.
The wisdom of Athens was seated in reason,
and did not affect life : the wisdom of Jerusa-
lem was seated in conscience, and created con-
duct. The Jewish Savonarola who thundered
in Jerusalem, * Wash you, make you clean ; put
away the evil of your doings from before mine
eyes,* had come out from a secret place where


the Seraphim said, ' Holy, holy, holy is the
Lord of Hosts.*

Jewish piety has laid the world under a hope-
less debt by imagining the austere holiness of
God, and has doubled the obligation by adding
His tenderness. It was an achievement to
carve the white marble ; a greater to make it
live and glow. The saints of Israel touched
their highest when they infused the idea of the
Divine spirituality with passion, and brought it
to pass that the Holy One of Israel is the kind-
est deity that has ever entered the heart of man.
There was no human emotion they did not
assign to God ; no relationship they did not
use as the illustration of His love ; no appeal
of affection they did not place in His lips ; no
sorrow of which they did not make Him par-
taker. When a prophet's inner vision had been
cleansed by the last agony of pain, he dares to
describe the Eternal as a fond mother who holds
Ephraim by the hands, teaching him to go ; who
is outraged by his sin, and yet cannot bear that
Israel should perish : as a Husband who has
offered a rejected love, and still pleads ; who is
stained by a wife's unfaithfulness, and pursues
an adulteress with entreaties. One cannot lay


his hand on the body of prophetical Scripture
without feeling the beat of the Divine heart :
one can detect in its most distant member the
warmth of the Divine love.

Your first conclusion is that faith can go no
further: your second reading reveals one signifi-
cant reserve. Prophets continually call God the
Father of the nation ; they never (with one
doubtful exception) call Him Father of the in-
dividual. Psalmists revel in an overflowing im-
agery for God, but one word lying to their hand
they do not use. He is the * Shepherd of Is-
rael * and * our dwelling-place in all generations * ;
He is the * Rock of my Salvation ' and a ' very
present help in trouble * : He is the ' Health
of my countenance,' and ' thy shade on thy
right hand ' ; but He is not Father. King is
the Psalmists' chief title for God and his high-
est note. * The Lord reigneth.' These saints
are unapproachable in their familiarity with the
Eternal ; they will argue and complain ; they
will demand and reproach, but never at any
moment are they so carried beyond themselves
as to say * My Father.* They are bold within
a limit : they have restraints in their language.
It is not a refusal to say Father, because the


idea is an offence : it is an unconsciousness—
because the idea has not yet dawned. The
clouds which had gradually risen from the base
and sides of the doctrine of God still veil the

When one passes from the Gospels to the
Psalms he is struck by the absence of Father.
When one returns he is struck by its presence.
The Psalmist never said the word ; Jesus never
said anything else. With Jesus, God and
Father were identical. Fatherhood was not a
side of Deity ; it was the centre. God might
be a King and Judge ; He was first of all, and
last of all, and through all. Father. In Father-
hood every other relation of God must be
harmonised and find its sphere. Short of His
Fatherhood you cannot stop in the ascent of
God. Under Fatherhood is gathered every
other revelation. Jesus reasoned in terms of
the Father: * If ye then, being evil, know how
to give good gifts unto your children, how
much more shall your Father which is in
heaven give good things to those that ask
Him ? ' He laboured in the fellowship of the
Father : ' I seek not mine own will, but the
will of the Father which hath sent me.' He


rested in the wisdom of the Father : * In that
hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank
Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
that Thou hast hid these things from the wise
and prudent, and hast revealed them unto
babes : even so. Father ; for so it seemed good
in Thy sight.* And Jesus suffered in the faith
of the Father : * Therefore doth my Father
love me, because I lay down my life that I
might take it again. . . . This commandment
have I received of my Father.* When the
consciousness of God awoke with power in the
soul of the Holy Child, He was filled with a
sudden enthusiasm, * Wist ye not that I must
be about my Father's business ? ' When He
had fulfilled His calling and offered His sacri-
fice, His soul turned to His Father : * Father,
into Thy hands I commend my spirit.* From
Nazareth to Calvary the love of the Father
was Jesus' dwelling-place.

* In that one thought He abode
For ever in that thought more deeply sinking.*

No one can ignore this constant and radiant
sense of the Divine Fatherhood in the life of
Jesus. It must be a suggestive fact to an un-


believer, for it will be admitted on every hand
that Jesus knew more about Religion than any
man that has ever lived. It ought to be an ab-
solute conclusion to a believer, since he holds
that Jesus is Himself Very God of Very God.
It goes without saying that Jesus' sense of
the Fatherhood must be supreme. It is a con-
tradiction of the Gospels to say that it was ex-
clusive. Jesus toiled for three years to write
the truth of the Fatherhood on the minds of
the disciples, with at least one result, that it is
interwoven with the pattern of the Gospels.
He pleaded also with His friends that they
should receive it into their hearts till St. John
filled his epistles with this word. With minute
and affectionate care, Jesus described the whole
circle of religious thought, and stated it in
terms of the Fatherhood. Prayer was to be to
the Father : say ' Our Father, which art in
heaven.' The principle of life was the Will of
the Father : he only attained who had done
the ' Will of our Father which is in heaven.*
The type of character was the Father : ' Be ye
therefore perfect, even as your Father which is
in heaven is perfect.' Providence is the mind-
ful oversight of a Father : ' Your heavenly


Father knoweth that ye have need of all these
things.' Repentance was a return to the
Father : * I will arise and go to my father.*
One of the few rays Jesus cast on the future
showed the Father's dwelling-place : ' In my
Father's house are many mansions.' The
effect of such passages is cumulative and irre-
sistible. They are better than the proof texts
for a dogma ; they are an atmosphere in which
religion lives and moves and has its being.
They are sunrise.

People with dogmatic ends to serve have

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15

Online LibraryIan MaclarenThe mind of the Master → online text (page 11 of 15)