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ject ; it was the rising of the sun on the whole
sum of things, a gradual, silent, irresistible illumi-
nation before which one saw the wreaths of mist
lift, and the recesses of the valleys laid open.
While Jesus is teaching, by allusions to sin, by
revelations of the state of holiness, by the clin-
ical treatment of sinners, by incidental glimpses


of His own experience in temptation, a com-
plete and full-rounded idea of sin grows before
the mind. His disciples hold it, for the most
part, in unconsciousness ; as soon as they iden-
tify it, Jesus* idea is verified.

Two teachers had attempted the diagnosis of
sin before Jesus, and Jesus included their con-
clusions. Moses had wrought into the warp
and woof of Jewish conscience the conviction
that sin was a crime against the Eternal, and
the Psalmists had invested this view with sin-
gular pathos. It mattered not what wrong a
man did ; it was in the last issue the heart of
God he touched. And God only could loose
him from the intolerable burden of guilt. Sin
was not only the transgression of a law written on
the conscience, it was a personal offence against
the Divine love. Jewish penitence therefore
was very tender and humble. * Against Thee,
Thee only have I sinned.' Jesus, in His Mono-
graph on sin, incorporates this discovery when
He makes the prodigal say, * Father, I have
sinned against heaven and in Thy sight,' when
He teaches to pray, * Forgive us our tres-
passes, as we forgive them that trespass against
us.' Jesus took for granted that sin was a crime.


Plato made the next contribution to the
science of sin. He approached the subject
from the intellectual side, and laid it down,
with great force, that if we knew more we
should sin less ; and if we knew all we should
not sin at all. This view has been discredited
by the reduction of knowledge to culture,
when it is at once contradicted by history, for
the Renaissance, say in Italy, was a period of
monstrous iniquity. Read vision for knowl-
edge, and this view verifies itself, for if our
human soul saw with clear eye the loathsome
shape of moral deformity and the fair propor-
tions of moral beauty it would not be possible
to sin. Jesus lends His sanction to Plato when
the prodigal comes to himself, and, his delirium
over, compares the far country, in its shame
and poverty, with his father's home where the
servants have enough and to spare. When
Jesus insists * Repent,' He makes the same
plea, for repentance is awaking to fact. It is a
change of mind. Jesus also believed that sin
was a mistake.

Where Jesus went beyond every other teach-
er was not in the diagnosis of sin : it was in its
analysis. He was not the first to ^iscof^tr its

G ■:.-^


symptoms or forms, but He alone has gone to the
bottom of things and detected the principle of
sin. Wherein does sin consist ? is the question to
which one must come in the end. Jesus has
answered it by tracing down the varied fibrous
growth of sins to its one root, and so, while
there are many authorities on sins, there is only
one on Sin. As when one sings, according to
a recent beautiful experiment, on a mass of
confused colours, and they arrange themselves
into mystical forms of flower or shell, so Jesus
breathes on life and the phantasmagoria of sin
changes into one plant, with root, and branch-
es, and leaves, and fruit, all organised and con-
sistent. Tried by final tests, and reduced to its
essential elements, sin is the preference of self
to God, and the assertion of the human will
against the Will of God. With Jesus, from first
to last, sin is selfishness.

It is the achievement of modern science to
discover the unity of the physical world. It is
one of the contributions of Jesus to reveal the
unity of the spiritual world. Before His eyes
it was not a scene of chance or confusion, but
an orderly system standing in the* will of God.*
This was Jesus' formula for the law of the soul.


which is the principle of thought — for the law
of life, which is the principle of conduct. If
any one did the ' will of God,' he was in har-
mony with the spiritual universe ; if he did his
'own will* he was out of joint. Consciously
and unconsciously each intelligent being made
a choice at every turn, either fulfilling or out-
raging the higher law of his nature, either
entering into or refusing fellowship with God.
Sin is not merely a mistake or a misfit ; it is a
deliberate mischoice. It is moral chaos.

Jesus' absolute consistency in His idea of sin
appears both in the standard of holiness to which
He ever appealed and in His fierce resistance
of certain temptations. * Which of you con-
vinceth Me of sin?* demanded Jesus in one of
His sharpest passages with the Pharisees, and
it was a bolder challenge than we are apt to
imagine. Had Jesus not been able to refer to
some law above the opinions and customs of
any age, a law beyond the tampering of men, — •
and yet repeated within every man's soul, — He
had been cast in that bold appeal. He had
violated a local and national order at every
turn, and incurred misunderstanding and cen-
sure. Had He responded to a higher order


which is over all, and which a Pharisee, as much
as Himself, was bound to obey? If it could be
shown that He was guided by private ends,
and that His life was an organised selfishness,
then He must be condemned, and the Amen of
every honest man would seal the sentence. But
if His life was singular because it was not selfish
and did not conform to this world, then He
must be acquitted. Jesus was jealous on this
point, and evidently watched Himself closely,
from His repeated assertions of obedience to
the Divine Will. * Neither came I of myself,
but He sent me.' * I seek not mine own
glory.* * My meat is to do the will of Him that
sent me.* * I can of myself do nothing ; as I
hear, I judge ; and my judgment is just, because
I seek not mine own will, but the will of the
Father which hath sent me.'

Jesus' passionate devotion to the Divine Will
and His crucifixion of self-will in its most re-
fined forms can be clearly read in the fire of His
temptations. From the wilderness to the garden
Jesus seems to have been assailed by one trial
expressly suited to His noble ends and unstained
soul. He was not tempted to do His own work
or to refuse the work of God ; such temptations


could never have once touched the Servant of
God. But it was suggested to Jesus that He
might fulfil Mis calling as the Messiah with far
surer and quicker success if He did not die on
the cross. Be an imperial Messiah, was in sub-
stance the temptation which arose before Jesus
at the beginning of His public life, and which
He described in such vivid imagery to His
disciples. He resisted it, because this kind of
Messiah was not the will of God. He accepted
the cross because it was the will of God. There
are signs that Jesus at one period had a Messi-
anic idea, which did not embrace the Cross.
We detect the inward strain ere Jesus' victory-
over self-will was complete. He set His face
*stedfastly ' to go to Jerusalem. He resented
the suggestion of St. Peter with a sudden fierce-
ness. He was troubled in prospect of the cross.
He was oppressed for a time in the upper room.
Beneath the olive trees of the garden He had
His last encounter with evil, and only when
He said, ' Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine
be done ' was the sinlessness of Jesus estab-

Jesus cast His whole doctrine of sin into the
Drama of the Prodigal Son, and commands our


adherence by its absolute fidelity to life. The
parable moves between the two poles of ideal
and real human life — home, where the sons of
God live in moral harmony with their Father,
which is liberty, — and exile, where they live in
riotous disobedience, which is licence. He fixes
on His representative sinner, and traces his
career with great care and various subtle
touches. His father does not compel him to
stay at home : — he has free will. The son
claims his portion : — he has individuality. He
flincrs himself out of his father's house : — he


makes a mischoice. He plays the fool in the
far country : — this is the fulfilling of his bent.
He is sent out to feed swine : — this is the
punishment of sin. He awakes to a bitter
contrast : — this is repentance. He returns to
obedience : — this is salvation. Salvation is the
restoration of spiritual order — the close of a
bitter experience. It is the return of the race
from its * Wander Year.*

Jesus rooted all sin in selfishness, but He
distinguished two classes of sinners and their
punishment. There was the Pharisee, who re-
sisted God because he was wilfully blind and
filled with pride. There was the Publican, who


forsook God because he was led astray by
wandering desires and evil habits. Sin, in each
case, wrought its own punishment. For the
Pharisee it was paralysis, so that he could not
enter the kingdom ; for the Publican it was
suffering, so that he must cut off the right arm
and pluck out the right eye to obtain the king-
dom. Heaven, according to Jesus, was to be
with God in our Father's house ; hell was to
be away from God, in the far country. Each
man carried his heaven in his heart — ' the king-
dom is within you ; ' or his hell in a gnawing
remorse and heat of lust, 'where their worm
dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.'

It is reasonable to expect that Jesus* idea of
salvation will correspond with His idea of sin,
as lock and key, or disease and medicine, and
one is not disappointed. According to Jesus,
the selfish man was lost ; the unselfish was
saved, and so He was ever impressing on His
disciples that they must not strive, but serve.
He Himself had come to serve, and He declared
that His sacrifice of Himself would be the re-
demption of the world. This is Jesus' explana-
tion of the virtue of His death. It was an act
of utter devotion to the Will of God, and a


power of emancipation in the hearts of His
disciples. As they entered into His Spirit
they would be loosed from bondage and escape
into liberty. They would be no longer the
slaves of sin, for the Son had made them free.
Jesus proposed to ransom the race, not by pay-
ing a price to the devil or to God, but by
loosening the grip of sin on the heart and rein-
forcing the will. The service of His life and the
sacrifice of His death would infuse a new spirit
into humanity, and be its regeneration. ' The
Son of Man came not to be ministered unto,
but to minister, and to give His life a ransom
for many.* Within this one pregnant sentence
Jesus states His doctrine of sin and salvation,
and it offers three pledges of reality. It reduces
the different forms of sin to a unity by tracing
them all to self-will. It shows the ethical con-
nection between the sin of man and the death
of Jesus. And it can be verified in the ex-
perience of the saint, which is the story of a
long struggle before his will becomes * the Will
of God/




It has been said, with a superb negligence of
Judaism, that Jesus discovered the individual ;
it would be nearer the truth to affirm that Jesus
cultivated the individual. Hebrew religion had
endowed each man with the right to say *' I," by-
inspiring every man with the faith to say God,
and Jesus raised individuality to its highest
power by a regulated process of sanctification.
Nothing is more characteristic of Jesus* method
than His indifference to the many — His devo-
tion to the single soul. His attitude to the
public, and His attitude to a private person
were a contrast and a contradiction. If His work
was likely to cause a sensation, Jesus charged
His disciples to let no man know it : if the
people got wind of Him, He fled to solitan
places : if they found Him, as soon as might be,
He escaped. But He used to take young men


home with Him, who wished to ask questions:
He would spend all night with a perplexed
scholar: He gave an afternoon to a Samaritan
woman. He denied Himself to the multitude :
He lay in wait for the individual. This was not
because He undervalued a thousand, it was
because He could not work on the thousand
scale : it was not because He over-valued the
individual, it was because His method was
arranged for the scale of one. Jesus never suc-
ceeded in public save once, when He was cru-
cified : He never failed in private save once, with
Pontius Pilate. His method was not sensation :
it was influence. He did not rely on impulses:
He believed in discipline. He never numbered
converts because He knew what was in man :
He sifted them as one winnoweth the wheat
from the chaff. Spiritual statistics are unknown
in the Gospels : they came in with St. Peter in
the pardonable intoxication of success : they
have since grown to be a mania. As the Church
coarsens she estimates salvation by quantity,
how many souls are saved : Jesus was concerned
with quality, after what fashion they were saved.
His mission was to bring Humanity to per-


Human nature has been a slow evolution, and
Jesus restricted Himself to the highest reaches.
He did not say one word on the health of the
body, although He is the only man in history
that never knew sickness. Health is a matter of
physiology: it is assumed in the ideal of Jesus.
The Kingdom of God is not meat and drink : it
is Righteousness and Peace and Joy. He pro-
posed no rules for the training of the mind and
did not condescend to write a book, although
every one recognises Jesus as the Prophet of
our Race. Mental culture is the province of
Literature, and Literature is lower than the
highest, for Jesus once cried in a rapture, ' I
thank Thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and
earth, because Thou hast hid these things from
the wise and prudent and hast revealed them
unto babes.' The mind is greater than the
body ; but there is one place more sacred still
where God is enshrined, and the affections, like
cherubim, bend over the Will. The Soul is the
holiest of all, whose curtains no master dared to
raise till Jesus entered as the High Priest of
Humanity, and it is in this secret place Jesus
works. There are three steps in the Santa
Scala which the Race is slowly and painfully


ascending ; barbarism where men cultivate the
body, civilisation where they cultivate the in-
tellect, holiness where they cultivate the soul.
There is for the whole Race, for each nation,
for every individual, the age of Homer, the age
of Socrates, the age of Jesus. Beyond the age
of Jesus nothing can be desired or imagined, for
it runs on those lofty table-lands where the soul
lives with God.

Jesus divested Himself of every other interest,
and for three years gave Himself night and day
to the culture of the human soul as a naturalist
to the cultivation of a rare plant, or a scientist to
the conquest of the electric force. He selected
twelve men from the multitude that offered
themselves, whom He considered malleable and
receptive for His discipline. They became His
disciples on whom He lavished labour He could
not afford to the world, and He became their
Master to whom they had committed them-
selves for treatment. Jesus separated these
men from the world and kept them under
observation night and day: He studied their
failings and idiosyncrasies: He applied His
method in every kind of circumstance and with
calculated degrees of intensity. With a mini-


mum of failure, one out of twelve : with a
maximum of success, eleven men of such
spiritual force that they gave another face to
the world and lifted the Race to its highest
level. The Gospels contain the careful account
of this delicate experiment in religious science,
and Jesus* exposition of the principle of saint-
hood. Christianity for nineteen centuries has
been the record of its application.

Spiritual culture demands an Ideal as well as
a Discipline, and Jesus availed Himself of the
Ideal of the Prophets. Their chief discovery
was the character of God — when the Hebrew
conscience, the keenest religious instrument in
the ancient world, lifted the veil from the
Eternal, and conceived Jehovah as the imper-
sonation of Righteousness. Their chief service
was the insistence on the duty of Righteous-
ness — who placed in parallel columns the
characters of God and man, and dared to believe
that every man ought to be the replica of God.
Their text was the Holy One, — their endless
and unanswerable sermon. Holiness. Jesus
adopted the obligation of Holiness, but changed
it into a Gospel by revealing the latent re-
lationship between man and God. Had one


asked the Hebrew Prophet, Why ought I to be
holy ? he had replied at his best, because Holi-
ness is the law of your being. Jesus accepted
the law, but added, because a son ought to be
like his Father. The Law without became an
instinct within. Holiness is conformity to type,
and the one standard of perfection is God Him-
self. Set the soul at liberty, and its history
will be a perpetual approximation to God. * Be
ye holy, for I am holy,* said the Old Testament.
* Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in
Heaven is perfect,' said Jesus.

With a soul that is imperfect, discipline
would simply be development. With a soul
that is sinful, discipline must begin with deliver-
ance. Jesus, as the Physician of the soul, had
not merely to do with growth : He had to deal
with deformity ; and Jesus, who alone has
analysed sin, has alone prescribed its cure.
Before Jesus, people tried to put away sin by
the sacrifice of bulls and goats, and so exposed
themselves to the merciless satire of the Proph-
ets ; since Jesus, people have imagined that
they could be loosed from their sins by the
dramatic spectacle of Jesus' death, and so have
made the crucifixion of none effect. If sin be


a principle in a man's life, then it is evident
that it cannot be affected by the most pathetic
act in history exhibited from without; it must
be met by an opposite principle working from
within. If sin be selfishness, as Jesus taught,
then it can only be overcome by the introduc-
tion of a spirit of self-renunciation. Jesus did
not denounce sin : negative religion is always
impotent. He replaced sin by virtue, which is
a silent revolution. As the light enters, the
darkness departs, and as soon as one renounced
himself, he had ceased from sin.

Jesus placed His disciples under an elaborate
and calculated regimen, which was intended at
every point to check the fever of self-will, and
reduce the swollen proportions of our lower
self. They were to repress the petty ambitions
of society. * When thou art bidden of any man
to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room
. . . but when thou art bidden, go and sit
down in the lowest room.' They were to
mortify the self-importance and vain dignity
that will not render commonplace kindness. * If
I then, your Lord and Master, have washed
your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's
feet.* They were not to wrangle about place,


or seek after great things: * Jesus took a child,
and set him by Him, and said unto them, . . .
he that is least among you all, the same shall
be great.* They were not to insist on rights
and resist injustice fiercely: * Whosoever shall
smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the
other also. And if any man will sue thee at the
law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy
cloke also.' Jesus once cast into keen contrast
the life of the world, which one was inclined to
follow, and the life of the Kingdom His dis-
ciples must achieve: * Ye know that they
which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles
exercise lordship over them ; and their great
ones exercise authority upon them * — that is
the self-life where men push and rule. * But so
shall it not be among you : but whosoever shall
be great among you, shall be your minister' — >
this is the selfless life where men submit and

Jesus' regimen had two degrees. The first
was self-denial ; the second was suffering, which
is self-denial raised to its full strength. If a
young man really desired to possess * ageless
life,' he must sell all he had and give to the
poor. If a publican desired the Kingdom of


God, he must leave all and follow Jesus. Men
might have to abandon everything they pos-
sessed and every person they loved, for Jesus'
sake and the Gospel's. The very instincts of
nature must be held in check, and at times laid
on the altar : ' He that loveth father and mother
more than me is not worthy of me, and he that
loveth son or daughter more than me is not
worthy of me.* This was not the senseless
asceticism that supposed life could be bought
with money, and it was still less the jealousy of
a master that grudged any affection given to
another. It was the illustration of that Selfless-
ness which is the Law of Holiness, the enforce-
ment of that death which is the gate of Life.
It was the exposition of Jesus' famous paradox,
* He that findeth his life shall lose it, and he
that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.*
Behold His discipline of perfection, upon which
in a moment of fine inspiration Jesus conferred
the name of the Cross. The Cross is the sym-
bol of self-renunciation and self-sacrifice, and is
Jesus' method of salvation. If any one desires
to be saved by Jesus, this is how he is going to
be saved. It is the ' Secret of Jesus ' : the way
which He has Himself trod, and by which He


leads His disciples unto God. ' If any man will
come after me, let him deny himself, and take
up his cross and follow me.*

The Cross was an open secret to the first
disciples, and they climbed the steep ascent to
Heaven by the * Royal Way of the Holy
Cross,' but its simplicity has been often veiled
in later days. Perhaps the simplicity of the
symbol has cast a glamour over the modern
mind and blinded us to its strenuous meaning.
Art, for instance, with an unerring instinct of
moral beauty, has seized the Cross and ideal-
ised it. It is wrought in gold and hung from
the neck of light-hearted beauty ; it is stamped
on the costly binding of Bibles that go to
church in carriages ; it stands out in bold relief
on churches that are filled with easy-going peo-
ple. Painters have given themselves to cruci-
fixions, and their striking works are criticised
by persons who praise the thorns in the crown,
but are not quite pleased with the expression
on Jesus' face, and then return to their pleas-
ures. Composers have cast the bitter Passion
of Jesus into stately oratorios, and fashionable
audiences are affected unto tears. Jesus* Cross
has been taken out of His hands and smothered


in flowers ; it has become what He would have
hated, a source of graceful ideas and agreeable
emotions. When Jesus presented the Cross
for the salvation of His disciples, He was cer-
tainly not thinking of a sentiment, which can
disturb no man's life, nor redeem any man's
soul, but of the unsightly beam which must be
set up in the midst of a man's pleasures, and
the jagged nails that must pierce his soul.

Theological science has also shown an unfor-
tunate tendency to monopolise the Cross till
the symbol of salvation has been lifted out of
the ethical setting of the Gospels and planted
in an environment of doctrine. The Cross has
been too laboriously traced back to decrees and
inserted into covenants : it has been too ex-
clusively stated in terms of Justification and
Propitiation. This is a misappropriation of the
Cross : it is a violation of its purpose. None
can belittle the function of the Queen of Sci-
ences or deny her right to theorise regarding
the Divine Purposes and the Eternal Right-
eousness, but it has been a disaster to involve
the Cross in these profound speculations.
When Theology has said her last word on the
Cross it is a mystery to the common people ;


when Jesus says His first word it is a plain
path. Jesus did not describe His Cross as a
satisfaction to God, else He had hardly asked
His disciples to share it ; He always spoke of it

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Online LibraryIan MaclarenThe mind of the Master → online text (page 5 of 15)