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derful that, in spite of many a blundering and
weakening influence, she has so fully entered
into the truth of Jesus.




Christians with a sense of fitness are not
ambitious to claim originality for their Master,
and have forgotten themselves when they
ground Jesus* position on the brilliancy of His
thought. They shrink, as by an instinct, from
entering Jesus for competition with other
teachers, and have Him so enshrined in the soul
that to praise Him seems profanity. When a
biographer of Jesus, more distinguished per-
haps by his laborious detail than his insight
into truth, seriously recommends Jesus to the
notice of the world by certificates from Rous-
seau and Napoleon, or when some light-hearted
man of letters embroiders a needy paragraph
with a string of names where Jesus is wedged
in between Zoroaster and Goethe, the Christian
consciousness is aghast. This treatment is not
merely bad taste • it is impossible by any canon



of thought ; it is as if one should compare the
sun with electric light, or the colour of Titian
* with the bloom of the rose. We criticise every
other teacher ; we have an intuition of Jesus.
He is not a subject of study, He is a revelation
to the soul — that or nothing. One does not
dream of claiming intellectual pre-eminence for
Jesus ; one is ready, at this point, to make the
largest admissions. Why should we bring Him
into comparison with Socrates ? He does not
come within the same category, raising no subtle
problems, nor making fine swordplay with words.
It is open to debate, indeed, whether Jesus said
anything absolutely new, save when He taught
the individual to call God Father. Very likely,
with the exception of a few obiter dicta, you
could piece out the Sermon on the Mount from
the Old Testament ; certainly Plato has a re-
markable anticipation of the Cross. Why should
we force the battle of parallel columns on the
pedantic minority who depreciate Jesus, and
put them to the labour of wearisome quotation
from the sacred books of the East ? Granted,
we cry at once, that this saying and the other
can be duplicated ; for even stout hearts are
now beginning to fail at a hint of Sakyamuni.


We abandon the plain before the heavy artillery-
lumbers up, without any sense of loss. Origi-
nality is not an addition to knowledge ; it is
only a new arrangement of colour.

Originality in literature is called discovery in
science, and the lonely supremacy of Jesus
rests not on what He said, but on what He did.
Jesus is absolute Master in the sphere of re-
ligion, which is a science dealing not with in-
tellectual conceptions, but with spiritual facts.
His ideas are not words, they are laws ; they
are not thoughts, they are forces. He did not
suggest, He asserted what He had seen by direct
vision. He did not propose, He commanded as
one who knew there was no other way. One
of His chief discoveries was a new type of
character^ His greatest achievement its creation.
It is now nineteen centuries since He lived on
earth, but to-day in every country of the west-
ern world there are men differing from their
neighbours, as Jesus did from His contempora-
ries. Jesus was a type by Himself, and they
are of the same type. One of course does not
mean that the type can be recognised in every
Christian, or that it can be seen complete in
any, but that if you take a sufficient number of


Jesus* disciples you will discover in their habits
of thinking and acting a certain trend of
character, which was not known before Jesus
came, and apart from His Spirit could not now
exist, which also would die out in three genera-
tions were His Spirit withdrawn. He presented
to the world a solitary ideal, and in innumer-
able lives He has made it real.

When Jesus began to be a force in human
life, there were four existent types on which
men formed themselves, and which are still in
evidence. One is the moral, and has the Jew
for its supreme illustration, with his faith in
the Eternal, and his devotion to the law of
righteousness. The next is the intellectual,
and was seen to perfection in the Greek, whose
restless curiosity searched out the reason of
things, and whose aesthetic taste identified
beauty and divinity. The third is the political,
and stood enthroned at Rome, where a nation
was born in the purple and dictated order to the
world. And the last is the commercial, and
had its forerunner in the Phoenician, who was
the first to teach the power of enterprise and
the fascination of wealth. Any other man
born at the beginning of the first century


could be dropped into his class, but Jesus
defied classification. As He moved among the
synagogues of Galilee, He was an endless per-
plexity. One could never anticipate Him. One
was in despair to explain Him. Whence is He ?
the people whispered with a vague sense of the
problem, for He marked the introduction of a
new form of life. He was not referable to
type : He was the beginning of a time.

Jesus did not repeat the role of Moses. He
did not forbid His disciples to steal or tell lies ;
it would have been a waste of His power to
teach the alphabet of morals. He takes morality
for granted, and carves what Moses has hewn.
His great discourse moves not in the sphere of
duty but in the atmosphere of love. ' It hath
been said, Thou slialt love thy neighbour. . . .
I say unto you. Love your enemies.' His dis-
ciples' righteousness must * exceed the righteous-
ness of the Scribes and Pharisees.* They must
not only do as much as, but ' more than others.*
The legal measure is morality, and the overflow
Christianity. Jesus stands above Judaism, and
He is an alien to Hellenism. Writers without
any sense of proportion have tried to graft
Greek culture on St. Paul because he was born


at Tarsus, and quoted once or twice from Greek
poets ; but no one has suggested that Jesus owed
anything to letters. He wrote no book ; He
formed no system ; His words were jets of truth,
and chose their own forms. The Empire was
not within the consciousness of Jesus : His only
point of contact with Rome was the Cross.
When His following wished to make Him a
King, He shuddered and fled as from an insult.
As for wealth, it seemed so dangerous that He
laid poverty as a condition on His disciples,
and Himself knew not where to lay His head.
You cannot trace Jesus: you cannot analyse
Jesus. His intense spirituality of soul, His
simplicity of thought, His continual self-abnega-
tion, and His unaffected humility descended on
a worn-out, hopeless world, like dew upon the
dry grass.

The Sermon on the Mount has been until late-
ly very much shelved by theologians, but it re-
mains the manifesto of Jesus' religion, and carries
in spirit His own irresistible charm — the fresh-
ness of new revelation. ' Blessed,' said Jesus,
opening His mouth with intention, and no one
could have guessed what would follow. The
world had its own idea of blessedness. Blessed is


the man who is always right. Blessed is the man
who is satisfied with himself. Blessed is the man
who is strong. Blessed is the man who rules.
Blessed is the man who is rich. Blessed
is the man who is popular. Blessed is the man
who enjoys life. These are the beatitudes of
sight and this present world. It comes with a
shock and opens a new realm of thought, that
not one of these men entered Jesus* mind when
He treated of blessedness. * Blessed,* said Jesus,
* is the man who thinks lowly of himself ; who
has passed through great trials ; who gives in and
endures ; who longs for perfection ; who carries
a tender heart ; who has a passion for holiness ;
who sweetens human life ; who dares to be true
to conscience.* What a conception of character !
Blessed are the humble, the penitents, the
victims, the mystics, the philanthropists, the
saints, the mediators, the confessors. For
the first time a halo rests on gentleness,
patience, kindness, and sanctity, and the eight
men of the beatitudes divide the kingdom of God.
Jesus afterwards focussed the new type of
character in a lovely illustration which is not al-
ways appreciated at its full value, because we
deny it perspective. Every reader of the Gospels


has marked the sympathy of Jesus with children.
How He watched their games ! How angry He
was with His disciples for belittling them ! How
He used to warn men, whatever they did, never
to hurt a little child ! How grateful were chil-
dren's praises when all others had turned against
Him ! One is apt to admire the beautiful senti-
ment, and to forget that children were more to
Jesus than helpless gentle creatures to be loved
and protected. They were His chief parable of
the Kingdom of heaven. As a type of charac-
ter the Kingdom was like unto a little child, and
the greatest in the Kingdom would be the most
child-like. According to Jesus, a well-condition-
ed child illustrates better than anything else on
earth the distinctive features of Christian charac-
ter. Because he does not assert nor aggrandise
himself. Because he has no memory for injuries,
and no room in his heart for a grudge. Because
he has no previous opinions, and is not ashamed
to confess his ignorance. Because he can imag-
ine, and has the key of another world, entering
in through the ivory gate and living amid the
things unseen and eternal. The new society of
Jesus was a magnificent imagination, and he
who entered it must lay aside the world stand-


ards and ideals of character, and become as a
little child.

Jesus was an absolute and unreserved be-
liever in character, and was never weary of in-
sisting that a man's soul was more than his
environment, and that he must be judged not
by what he held and had, but by what he was
and did. Nothing could be easier than to say,
* Lord, Lord,' but that did not count. Jesus'
demand was to do the ' will of my Father
which is in heaven/ and all of this kind made
one family. He only has founded a kingdom
on the basis of character; He only has dared
to believe that character will be omnipotent.
No weapon in Jesus' view would be so win-
some, so irresistible, as the beatitudes in action.
His disciples were to use no kind of force,
neither tradition, nor miracles, nor the sword,
nor money. They were to live as He lived,
and influence would conquer the world. Jesus
elected twelve men — one was a failure — and
trained them till they thought with Him, and
saw with Him. St. John did not imitate Jesus,
he assimilated Jesus. Each disciple became a
centre himself, and so the Kingdom grows by
multiplying and widening circles of influence.


The aggression of Jesus is the propagation of
character. ' Ye are the salt of the earth,* * Ye
are the Hght of the world.* The victory of
Jesus is to be the victory of character. * In
the regeneration (Utopia) when the Son of
Man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye
also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the
twelve tribes of Israel.*

When Jesus grounds His religion on char-
acter He gives a radiant proof of His sanity,
and wins at once the suffrages of reasonable
men. There is nothing on which we differ so
hopelessly as creed, nothing on which we agree
so utterly as character. Impanel twelve men
of clean conscience and average intelligence
and ask them to try some person by his opin-
ions, and they may as well be discharged at
once : they will not agree till the Greek
Kalends. Ask them to take the standard of
conduct, and they will bring in a verdict in five
minutes. They have agreed in anticipation.
Just as he approximates to the beatitudes they
will pronounce the man good ; just as he di-
verges will they declare him less than good.
Were any one to insinuate a reference to his
opinions, it would be instantly dismissed as an


irrelevance, and worse, an immorality, an
attempt to confuse the issues of justice.
According to the consistent teaching of Jesus
a Christian is one of the same Hkeness as Him-
self, and nothing will more certainly debauch
the religious sense than any shifting of labels,
so that one who keeps Jesus' commandments
is denied His name, and one in whom there is
no resemblance to Jesus receives it on grounds
of correct opinion. One cannot imagine our
Master requiring the world to accept a disciple
on the ground of the man's declaration of
faith ; He would offer to the world the test of
the man's life. When one puts in his faith as
evidence he is giving a cheque on a bank be-
yond reach ; when he puts in his character he
pays in gold. The reasonableness of Jesus
carries everything before it. ' Do men gather
grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles ? Even so
every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but
a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.'
* Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.*
With His appreciation of character Jesus
affords us a ground of certitude which can be
found nowhere else in religion. This is where
Christian ethics have an enormous advantage


over Christian theology. One generation may
build up a doctrine with the most conscien-
tious labour, but it has no guarantee that the
next — equally earnest and intelligent — may not
reverse it, laying the emphasis on other texts,
or influenced by some other spirit. There can
be no finality in theology : this is one of its
glories. Therefore it must ever be an uncer-
tain ground of judgment : this is one of its dis-
abilities. One century a Christian is burned
because he does not believe in the Mass, and in
the next another is executed because he does.
It were patent injustice to bind up salvation
with a fluctuating science ; condemnation
might then hinge on the date of a man's birth,
not the attitude of his soul. There are only
two departments in which the human mind can
arrive at certainty : one is pure mathematics,
and the other is pure ethics. The whole must
be greater than its part, not only in this world
but in every other where the same rational
order prevails, and there can be no place with-
in the moral order where the man of the beati-
tudes will not be judged perfect. At no time
and in no circumstances can he be condemfted
or depreciated. Yesterday, to-day and for ever


he is the bright excellency of manhood.
Again, without effort and without argument,
Jesus carries conviction to reason and con-
science. * Whosoever heareth these sayings of
Mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a
wise man, which built his house upon a rock.'
It would, however, be a shallow inference
that the premium Jesus set on character meant
a discount on faith, or that Jesus has originated
that exasperating contrast between creed and
life. If Jesus, magnifying character, said in
one discourse, * Be ye therefore perfect even as
your Father which is in heaven is perfect,' He
made it plain in another how character is
formed: * Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of
Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in
you.' He insisted on being, and also on be-
lieving, and in His mind they fell into order.
Faith in Him was the process, and character
was the product, and Jesus with His supreme
reasonableness taught that the finished product
and not the varying process should be the ma-
terial of judgment. It is vain to expatiate on
the ingenuity of the machinery if the sample of
corn be badly milled ; and if it be well done
the criticism on the machinery may be spared.


If any one is so fortunate as to hold in his heart
and in its fuhiess the Catholic faith concerning
Jesus, his richly developed character will be
the unanswerable vindication of his creed. If
one, less fortunate, should miss that full vision
of Jesus, which is the inheritance of the saints,
then it will be the less necessary to criticise his
creed, since a frost-bitten and poverty-stricken
character will be its swift condemnation. * He
that abideth in me and I in him, the same
bringeth forth much fruit * is Jesus* reconcilia-
tion of creed and character.

One cannot yield to the force of Jesus* teach-
ing on character without facing its last applica-
tion and asking. Will the final Assize be held
on faith or character? As a matter of fact, the
best public mind under all religions has judged
by character, and has done so with a keen sense
of justice and a conviction of paramount author-
ity. When the individual has to form an estimate
of his neighbour in critical circumstances he ig-
nores his opinions and weighs his virtues. No
one, for instance, would leave his wife and chil-
dren to the care of a trustee because he hap-
pened to be a Trinitarian, but only because his
friend was a true man before God. It is a


working principle of life that judgment goes by
character, and if in the end it should go by
faith it might be in keeping with some higher
justice we know not here ; but it would cover
our moral sense with confusion and add an-
other to the unintentional wrongs men have
endured, in this world, at their fellows' hands.
It were useless to argue about a matter of
which we know nothing, and where speculation
is vain. We must simply accept the words of
Jesus, and it is an unspeakable relief to find
our Master crowning His teaching on character
with the scene of the Last Judgment. The
prophecy of conscience will not be put to
shame, nor the continuity of this life be broken,
When the parabolic form is reduced and the
accidental details laid aside, it remains that the
Book of Judgment is the Sermon on the Mount,
and that each soul is tried by its likeness to the
Judge Himself. Jesus has prepared the world
for a startling surprise, but it will not be the
contradiction of our present moral experience :
it will be the revelation of our present hidden




Jesus reigns supreme among teachers not only
by the perfection of His character but also by
the grandeur of His subject. A prophet has
many things to say to his generation ; one only
is his message. Jesus treated every idea of the
first order in the sphere of Religion ; His
burden was Life. He did not set Himself to
teach men how to organise the state, nor how
to analyse their minds, nor how to discharge
elementary duties, nor how to form a science
of Theology. This was not because Jesus
despised these departments, it was because He
proposed to dominate them. He would not
localise Himself in one because He would in-
spire all. Behind the state is the individual,
behind the individual is the soul, and the one
question of the soul is life. The soul is the
organ, and life the function ; and although


exact scholars may be horrified, the translators
of our Bible had hold of the facts of the case
when they used a certain word generously, ren-
dering it in one verse ' life' and in the next
* soul.* Ethical life implies the soul, and a
dead soul is a contradiction in terms. The
chief necessity of man is life, and when Jesus
opened its spring He fertilised human nature
to its farthest border. He was not a Politician,
but the Democracy is His creation ; He was
not a Philosopher, but He has given us the
modern metaphysic ; He was not a Moralist,
but He has inspired the coming ethic ; He was
not a Theologian, but the creeds are built out
of His teaching. He revived the body of
humanity by the regeneration of the individual.
Before Jesus, life was a wistful longing : it was
also a hopeless mystery. With the thinkers of
one nation it was a speculation, as in the
Phcedo ; with the saints of another it was a
vision, as in the sixteenth Psalm. Jesus
brought life to light and declared the doctrine
of immortality. History acknowledges Him
as the first and last authority on the biology of
the soul, and experience has proved Him to be
the only medium of life. Life was the gift


Jesus carried in His hand ; as He said, in His
magnificent way, ' I am come that they might
have life, and that they might have it more

An instinct is any part of our spiritual capital
which has not been contributed by education or
revelation, and our two chief instincts are God
and immortality. The hope of the future life has
always nestled in the heart of the race, and found
wings upon occasion. When savages bury his
weapons and utensils with the dead man in order
that he may start with a full equipment, they
believe that he is somewhere ; and when the
Athenians went out to Eleusis twice a year, in
March as the life of the year springs, and in
September as it fades, and held a solemn func-
tion, it was not only that they might live happily,
but, as Cicero puts it, might * die with a fairer
hope.' The Eleusinian mysteries must have been
a great support to the pious of the day, and
served the purpose of a conference for the deep-
ening of spiritual life. This instinct dies down to
the root in the winter of Agnosticism, but it never
loses its vitality. Clever people point out that
no one can demonstrate immortality, — which
goes without saying ; and high-minded people


condemn the desire for continued individuality
as a subtle form of selfishness, — which is very
superior. There may be an insignificant minority
who would be content that their life should be
flung back like a cupful of water into the stream
from which it was taken. But to the Race the
destruction of this hope would be irreparable,
since it is laden with a wealth of compensation
and reparation. Mourners are content because
those ' loved long since * are only ' lost awhile.*
St. Stephen, cut off in his youth, does not com-
plain, because he sees Jesus standing at God's
right hand. The scholar gathers his apparatus
for unending work.

' What's time ? Leave Now for dogs and apes;
Man has Forever.*

Arthur, betrayed and beaten, does not despair:

' My God, Thou hast forgotten me in my death :*
' Nay, God my Christ, I pass, but shall not die.*

This sublime instinct Jesus found and did not
belittle. He confirmed it with His sanction and
built on it His doctrine of Ageless Life.

It was not Jesus' function to add to our na-
ture; it was His to glorify it, and in His hands
the instinct of immortality was raised to its high-


est power. Jesus began with a tacit distinction
between existence and life which gives a char-
acteristic Hft and splendour to His words. Ex-
istence is physical, and is dependent on the
energy that works in matter. Life is spiritual,
and is dependent on the energy that works in
mind. One comes upon a person that has not
one point of contact with the thought-world : he
eats, digests, moves, — we say he exists. One
comes on another full of ideas, plans, dreams,
ambitions, — we say he is alive. It is the ap-
proximate statement of a fact in human history.
When the former dies we are not astonished, be-
cause it had never struck us that he was alive.
When the latter dies we are shocked, the disap-
pearance of that radiant man is a catastrophe.
Jesus recognised similar conditions in the spirit-
ual world — existence, which meant an inert and
unconscious soul, and life, which meant a soul
receptive and active. Mere existence He called
death, and used to startle men into thinking with
paradoxes : * Let the dead bury their dead ;'
* Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour is com-
ing and now is when the dead shall hear the voice
of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.*
Whether Jesus believed in the continued exist-


ence of this lowest grade in the human kingdom
can hardly be disputed when in this parable we
read that a soul eaten up by selfishness like
Dives, and a soul purified by trial like Lazarus,
both reappeared in another world. Jesus as-
sumed existence for all, but existence on this low
plane of death was not worth His consideration.
Jesus was not an authority on existence ; His
field was life. He did not labour the barren
theory of conscious immortality apart from the
condition of the soul : but He transforms immor-
tality into Life by charging immortality with an
ethical content and making it to consist in the
knowledge of God : * This is Life Eternal, that
they might know Thee the only true God, and

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Online LibraryIan MaclarenThe mind of the Master → online text (page 3 of 15)