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bidder paid the stipulated sum into the treasury, and then col-
lected as much from the province he had bid for as he could,
and the process was repeated in succession by his subordinates in
their separate offices. Not unfrequently the contract was taken
by a joint-stock company, with a managing- director at Rome and
a sub-magister in the province, who was the chief for the district ;
under him were the '" actual custom-house officers, who examined
each bale of g-oods exported or imported, assessed its value more
or less arbitrarily, wrote out the ticket, and enforced payment.
The latter were commonly natives of the province in which they
were stationed, as being brought daily into contact with all classes
of the population." These are the persons usually meant by the
word " publicans " in the New Testament. They " were encour-
aged in the most vexatious and fraudulent exactions, and a
remedy was all but impossible." In addition to their other faults,
the publicans of the New Testament were regarded as traitors
and apostates. In Galilee they consisted probably of the least
reputable members of the fisherman and i>easant class. See
Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, art. " Publicans."


his surplus. He had either to buy fine clothes,
which the moths destroyed ; ^ or lock his money up
in a strong box, which a thief might carry off if
the tax-gatherer failed to discover it ; or dig a hole
in the ground and bury it, where perhaps another
would find it after his death.^ The people lived in
that stolid despair which is so often mistaken for
content, and which in their case was saved from
becoming an acute and intolerable despair only by
the dormant hope of a deliverance and Deliverer
whom their children or children's children might

Jesus from the first spoke to this dormant hope.
He told the people that the deliverance and the
Deliverer had come ; that the day had dawned, and
they might see the ruddy sign of the dawn if they
would but look up. He bade them not look for-
ward any longer, for the kingdom had arrived and
was among them. His message was, " The king-
dom of heaven is at hand." One of his earlier
sermons was reported and has been preserved. It
was preached in the synagogue of his native vil-
lao-e. He read from the roll of Isaiah an ancient
prophecy of a good time coming, when glad tidings
should be preached to the poor, the broken-hearted
should be healed, the captives delivered, the blind
made to see, the bruised set at liberty. He said
that the time for the fulfillment of this prophecy
had come. We are now so familiar with this mes-
saofe that we cannot realize what it meant in the

1 Matt. vi. 19, 20. - Matt. xiii. 44.


beginning of the Christian era, when equal rights
were unknown ; when half the population of Rome
were slaves, holding life itself at the sufferance of
their masters ; when in Rome education was con-
fined to the higher circles, and in the higher circles
to a knowledge of elocution and gymnastics ; when
a wife might at any time be dismissed by her hus-
band, as a servant with us ; when law was habitu-
ally an instrument for oppression, taxation was a
form of robbery, and liberty was another name for
lawlessness. Such an age listened with wonder-
ing, it may almost be said childish delight, to the
declaration that One had come under whose influ-
ence slavery would be abolished, the peasant popu-
lations of the world would be enfranchised, wealth
would be diffused, education would be universal,
war would cease, woman would become the true
companion of her former master, and every house
w^ould become a home, its furnishing, comfort, its
atmosphere, love.

The public preaching with which Christ followed
this sermon is largely an amplification of it. Its
burden is. The kingdom of God is at hand. The
message of Christianity as delivered by the Church
has often misinterpreted that of the Master. But
if we will forget the intervening ecclesiastical mes-
sages and go back to the first century, — if we
will consider the history of the people to whom
Jesus Christ spoke, their literature, their train-
ing, their expectations, and then will read Christ's
instructions in the light of his own time, — we


can hardly fail to see that the burden of his
ministry was far more sociological than either
ecclesiastical or theological. He intimated that
there was to be a church, but he gave almost no
instructions respecting its constitution or its laws.
Once, in Galilee, he sent his twelve disciples forth
two by two 1 to act. as heralds of the coming king-
dom, while he heralded it in the larger towns.
Once, in the larger province of Perea, he sent forth
seventy upon a similar mission.^ Once, in answer
to a request of his disciples for instructions how to
pray, he combined in a marvelously brief and sim-
ple prayer the commoner desires of devout souls,
and left it rather as a type of all devotion than as
a form for any. But, excepting for these inci-
dents, for two or three enigmatical declarations
applied by some to the twelve, and by some to all
discij)les in all times, and for two directions, — one
given just before his death, the other after his
resurrection, out of which have grown the obser-
vance of baptism, of the Lord's Supper, and in
some churches of a foot-washing ceremonial, —
he said little or nothing concerning either ritual or
ecclesiastical order. He never propounded a creed,
confession of faith, or body of divinity. He treated
men always as spiritual beings ; death as an inci-
dent in life, not as the end of it ; and God as the
Father of mankind, in whose love is the hope of
life. But he did not argue even these simple
theological propositions, except when he was con-

^ Mark vi. 7 ; Luke ix. 1, " Luke x. 1.


fronted by sj^eelal questioning. If we read with a
fresli and open mind liis instructions, we shall per-
haps be surprised to discover how little there is in
them about what we ordinarily call religion, —
church-going, Bible-reading, forms of public wor-
ship, doctrines of theology. His first recorded
sermon — the one at Nazareth^ — was his affirma-
tion that deliverance was at hand, and would prove
to be a deliverance of all humanity, Gentile as well
as Jew. His second sermon — the Sermon on the
Mount — was an exposition of the laws of the
kingdom of God upon the earth, the true theocracy.
In it he told his discijjles how they should settle
their quarrels, control their tongues, deal with
their enemies, carry themselves in their industries.
The group of parables by the seashore — consti-
tuting what we may call his third great sermon —
illustrates the growth of this kingdom : it comes
gradually, like a plant from a seed ; it depends on
the soil, that is, on the community. It grows up
with an antagonistic kingdom of unrighteousness,
as the wheat grows up in the same field with the
tares ; it grows by a process of agitation, as the
leaven or yeast makes the whole lump of dough to
ferment. His fourth great sermon — in the sjoia-
gogue at Capernaum, on the Bread of Life — is an
exposition of the secret of the power of this king-
dom, — God in the hearts of men. But in them
all, as in the more fragmentary reports of his
lesser discourses and his conversations, the burden
of his instruction is present life, — how to make it


pure, noble, beneficent. What does life mean?
what does patience mean ? what do the rich owe to
the poor, the strong to the weak, the wise to the
ignorant? on what principles ought men to admin-
ister the property they possess? what are their
relations and their obligations to one another ? —
these, and such as these, are the questions to which
his teaching is chiefly devoted.

In his life-work he was more than a social
reformer, — he was a social revolutionist. His
methods were spiritual, not temporal; peaceful,
not warlike : but his object was revolution. The
complaint subsequently brought against his disci-
ples, that they were turning the world upside
down, was a just complaint. It was because Christ
set himself against the established order that the
established order determined upon and accom-
plished his death. That order was one of hier-
archy in the church and aristocracy in the state.
There were few rich and many poor, few learned
and many ignorant. Christ did not merely teach
that the rich should contribute of their affluence
to the poor, and the wise should offer occasional
instruction to the ignorant : he set himself to re-
verse the prevalent social condition, — to make the
many rich and the many wise. He taught that the
whole human race — not a few at the top ; not the
learned, the rich, the aristocratic ; not the mem-
bers of a small and favored nation, the Jews, but
the whole human race — is to be educated, trans-
formed, enfranchised, enriched.^ He reversed the

1 Matt. ix. lO-lo ; Luke xv.


world's standard of values. He tauglit that
wealth consists in character, not in possession.^
He reversed the world's measure of greatness.
" He that is greatest among you," he said, " shall
be your servant." ^ He affirmed the brotherhood
of the human race, and challenged alike the pre-
judices of the aristocracy by his companionship
with the poor, the ignorant and the outcast, and
the prejudices of the common people by his com-
mendation of virtue in the pagan.^

The world has always bowed at the shrine of
wealth. To wealth Christ paid no deference.
His congregations were composed chiefly of the
common people ; his special friends and companions
were chosen from them. Among them he found
his social fellowship. The rich man who fared
sumptuously every day, oblivious of the poverty
about him, he portrayed as in another life suf-
fering torments in hell ; the outcast beggar, as
in Paradise.^ The shrewd and crafty capitalist,
whose only notion of prosperity was accumulation
and still accumulation, he called a " fool." ^ A
corrupt ring had installed themselves in the outer
court of the temple, turned it into a market-place,
and driven the common people out. With flash-
ing eye he turned upon the traffickers and single-
handed drove them away.^ Personally he shared
the poverty of the poor with them, and required

1 Luke xii. 16-21. - Matt, xx, 26 ; xxiii. 11.

3 Matt. viii. 10, 11 ; Luke iv. 24-27. * Luke xvi. 19-31.
s John ii. 13-22.


those who wished to unite themselves to him in the
innermost circle of his friends to do the same ;
much in the spirit in which to-day a Salvationist
workins: in the slums submits to the conditions of
the life which she endeavors to transform.

He paid as little attention to the ecclesiastical
aristocracy in the church as to the aristocracy of
wealth in society. The established order was both
social and ecclesiastical, but more the latter than
the former, for it was intrenched behind and allied
with a superstitious conception of religion and a
reverence for material things. Carlyle and Froude
have both admirably traced the rise and develop-
ment of idolatry ; they have shown how men begin
by making an image or a picture to represent God,
a ritual or temple to represent worship, a creed or
a theology to represent truth, and have ended by
worshiping the picture, the temple, the creed.
This is idolatry, — the substitution of the eidolon,
or symbol, for the reality. It is equally idolatry
whether the symbol is a crucifix, a meeting-house,
or a printed creed. In the first century the Jewish
nation professed to hate idolatry with a perfect
hatred, but the established order was founded on
idolatry. The temple, with its attendant system of
sacrifices, was the centre of all worship ; and the
devout Jew could hardly conceive that religion
could survive if the temple were destroyed, the sac-
rifices were to cease, the priesthood were to be
discontinued, or the traditional theology inherited
from the fathers were to be changed. Christ fore-


told the destruction of the temple, and subverted
the very foundations of this idolatrous faith by de-
claring that God can be worshiped at any time and
in any place, if the heart in sincerity and simplicit}^
seeks for Him.^ He ignored the sacrificial system
which had grown up in the temple, which was re-
garded as a necessary condition of receiving for-
giveness for sin, and on the maintenance of which
the perpetuity of the priesthood depended. Tra-
ditional theology taught that sin is a cause sufficient
for hating the sinful. Christ treated sin as a dis-
ease which ought to evoke our tenderest pity and
compassion. Traditional theology taught that God's
hatred of the sinner must be appeased by sacrifice
before the sinner can be forgiven, and out of the
freewill expressions of penitence and gratitude era-
bodied in the ancient sacrifices ^ the Jews had de-
veloped a comjjulsory sacrificial system, enforced
by threats of eternal vengeance if it was not recog-
nized and observed. Christ represented God as a
Father going forth to meet the repentant and re-
turning son while he yet timidly waited afar off .'^
In no single instance did Christ send the repentant
sinner to the priest or the temple to offer a sacrifice
for his sin ; he simply bade him go in peace and
sin no more.*

1 John iv. 23, 24.

^ " He shall offer it of his own voluntary will." Lev. i. 3.

^ Luke XV. 20. Greek : " held himself afar off."

* Matthew viii. 4 ; Luke xvii. 14, are not exceptions : the
leper was not directed to offer a sacrifice to secure f org-iveness ;
he was to show himself to the priest, as the lawful health officer,


With the compulsory sacrificial system, and
rooted in the same false conception of God and
life, had grown up an elaborate system of fasts, or-
ganized for the purpose of securing the divine favor.
The orthodox Jew fasted on the fourth day of the
month, because on that day Nebuchadnezzar had
captured the temple ; on the fifth day of the month,
because on that day the temple had been burned ;
on the seventh day of the month, because on that
day the Jewish governor had been murdered ; on
the tenth day of the month, because on that day
the Chaldeans had besieged Jerusalem ; on the
fifth day of each week, because on that day Moses
went up into the mountain for the law ; and on the
second day of each week, because on that day Moses
had brought the law down. Thus religion was
clothed in sackcloth and ashes. Jesus disregarded,
and encouraged his disciples to disregard, this sys-
tem of fasting. He brought back the old spirit of
the Jewish law, which made every Sabbath a feast
day, and every great religious occasion a festival.^
The religious life he was accustomed to compare
to a great feast to which every one was invited who
chose to come.^ Those who were not prepared to
come had garments provided for them by their

Traditional theology he treated with as little

in order that the cure might be officially recognized, and the ban
which had been pronounced against him might be taken off. It
was faith in Christ, not sacrifice, which made whole. Luke xvii. 19.

1 Exod. xxiii. 14-17 ; Lev. xxiii. ; Deut. xvi.

2 Matt. xxii. 9 ; Luke xiv. 16-24.


respect as ecclesiastical ceremonialism. The priest
and the Levite, who passed the wounded traveler
by, he condemned ; the heretical Samaritan, who
went out of his way to relieve the unfortunate way-
farer, he commended. The publican, who came to
the temple seeking help to escape from his sin,
Christ portrayed as more acceptable to God than
the orthodox Pharisee, moral in his life and scru-
pulous in his religious observances, who boasted in
pious prayer of his excellencies. ^ His illustrations
of religious life were not taken from the temple
courts or the synagogue services. His pictures of
the religious man were, a farmer sowing his seed
in all soils, a fisherman casting his net into the sea,^
an honest steward doing his best with his employ-
er's estate,^ a merchantman who finding a great
pearl did not covet it, but sold all that he had to
become its honest owner.^

This religion of the common life, and therefore
of the common people, Jesus taught explicitly was
for all peoples. The Jews believed that they were
the chosen of God, and that all other nations were
reprobate. The result of a narrow conception of
God is always a narrow conception of humanity
and a narrow conception of righteousness. Christ
assailed this threefold narrowness with equal cour-
age, whether it showed itself in a false theology,
an artificial morality, or in a race prejudice. In
that very first sermon of which we have any record,

1 Luke X. 29-37 ; xviii. 9-14. '^ Matt. xiii. 3, 47, 45.

^ Luke xii. 42.


and in that very synagogue at Nazareth ^ where as
a boy he had been accustomed to worship, he re-
minded the congregation that God had passed the
Jews by and selected a woman from Tyre and
Sidon for mercy, and again passed the Jews by to
select a man from Syria for mercy ; and with one
consent the congregation rose in their rage, cast
him out of the synagogue, and would fain have
killed him. The spirit of this discourse appears
again and again in his teaching, and reaches its
natural climax in his last commission to his disci-
ples to go into all the world and proclaim the glad
tidings to every creature.^

However Christ may have been misunderstood
since, he was not, in this one fundamental respect,
misunderstood in his own time. The common peo-
ple of Palestine perceived in him their friend and
leader. They responded to his call, flocked about
him, were eager listeners to his inspiring teaching,
and would have crowned him their king ^ and made
him help them in a violent revolution against their
oppressors, if he would have consented. On the
other hand, the rich, the aristocratic, the learned,
the social, political, and ecclesiastical leaders of the
time, understood equally well that the success of his
mission involved a social revolution.* They saw
that he was a leveler, that if he succeeded their
power and prestige were gone, and they joined all
their forces against him ; not because they were

1 Luke iv. 16 ; vii. 9. 2 ^att. xxviii. 19, 20.

3 John vi. 15, ^ John xi. 49, 50»


unwilling that men should be taught patiently to
bear oppression, poverty, and ignorance in this
present life, sustained by the hope of some better
condition in a life to come, but because they rightly
perceived that the life which Christ was imparting
would make the men who received it no longer sub-
missive to oppression.

It is not necessary for my purpose in this volume
to trace any further in detail the life and teachings
of Jesus Christ. It must suffice thus briefly to
show that a consideration of his teachings, his life,
the elements of his popularity, and the causes of
the bitter hostility to him, all combine to demon-
strate that he came as the organizer of a new social
order, that in Christ's birth was born a new social



Instructed in the principles of a new social
order, inspired by a new and divine life of faith,
hope, and love, the disciples went forth to preach
the kingdom of God on the earth. Of course they
could not believe that they were to establish this
future kingdom. It transcended the possibilities
of their faith to believe that they, only twelve in
number, could face the whole pagan world and re-
construct it. When they did preach and men
heard their calling, it was only the slaves and
the freedmen, the poor and the outcast, that consti-
tuted their congregations. How could they expect
to revolutionize the Roman Empire, break its yoke
asunder, set aside imperial despotism, and bring in
a reign of justice, liberty, and peace on the earth ?
It was impossible that they should believe this, and
they did not. They believed the Messiah would
come again in great glory. They waited and
watched for that coming, and grew heartsick be-
cause he did not come. Little by little the church
abandoned its hope of a world-wide kingdom, drew
a line between itself and the world, and applied


the teachings of their Lord only to the church. It
divided men into two classes, the religions and the
secular, and considered Christ's laws applicable
only to the religious. But even the church was
apparently not ready for principles so radical.
Hence men separated themselves from the church,
organized religious brotherhoods, and in these
brotherhoods endeavored to carry out the spirit
and tlie principles of Christ's instructions. We
look back upon those brotherhoods with disdain,
but we do them wrong. It is difficult to see how
any man could have done more to promote the
kingdom of Christ on the earth than St. Francis
of Assisi did with his Brotherhood of the Poor.^
His methods were not always wise, his teachings
were not altogether Christ's ; but still the spirit
of Christ was in them. Monasteries were organ-
ized into which the kingdom of God mioht retreat.
If we compare those monasteries with the life of
to-day, they seem to be evil ; if we comjjare them
with the life which surged around them, they were
admirable. Everywhere else lust reigned ; in these
monasteries, during their early history, comparative
purity. Everywhere else ignorance reigned ; these
monasteries were the custodians of the libraries
and the treasure-houses of learning. Everywhere
else rapine reigned ; these monasteries were the
almoners of charity, — charity towards one another,
charity to the world without.^

^ See Life of St. Francis of Assisi, by Paul Sabatier.

2 Monasteries and Monnstictsm : their Service and Benefit. See


While thus some men in the church endeavored
to oro:anize brotherhoods in accordance with the
spirit of Christ's teachings, other men undertook,
in sporadic efforts, to carry out those principles
in local communities. The Waldenses, in their
Italian valleys, endeavored to found such a brother-
hood. Savonarola died in the endeavor to make
Florence a Christian city. Calvin undertook to
make Geneva at once a Christian state and a
Christian church, and required that every citi-
zen should subscribe to simple articles of faith.
The Puritans, borrowing this idea from Calvin,
came across the sea to found, not a community in
which every man should worship as he pleased, but,
what was almost its exact antipodes, a revived
and renewed theocracy borrowed from the Old
Testament.^ These sporadic efforts failed ; for the
most part, because in them men attempted, not

Charles King-sley, Eoman and Teuton, clis. viii. and ix. ; Sir
James Stephen, Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography, vol. i. p. 371 ;
Schaff, History of the Christian Church, book iii. eh. iv. § 34 ;
Milman, Xaii'n Christianity, \ol. ii. pp. 20G, 207; Stubbs, Const.
Hist, of England, vol. i. pp. 222, 224.

1 Milman, Latin Christianity, vol. v. p. 150 ff.; R. C. French,
Lectures on Mediceval Church History ; Villari, Savonarola, i. 260,
339; ii. 132-140; Mrs. Oliphant, Makers of Florence, eh. xi. ;
Savonarola as a Politician ; H. H. Milman, Savonarola, Eras-
mus, and other Essays ; Leaders of the Beformation, p. 107 ; Paul
Henry, Life of Calvin, i. 351, 407. A confession was prepared
by Farel, in conjunction with Calvin, at Geneva. It consisted of
twenty-one articles, and in 1530 the citizens were oblig'ed to
swear to this, but it possessed no proper symbolic authority.
Ellis, The Puritan Age in Massachusetts, eh. v.; The Biblical


to inspire government with the spirit of Christ,
but by governmental action to coerce men into
loyalty to Christ. And that has always failed.

It is not necessary here to trace the historic
process by which the pagan world was gradually
transformed into Christendom, the forces of im-
perial Rome into the imperfectly Christianized
forces of the Republic of the United States. It
must suffice to put in contrast these two empires,
and to indicate, by the contrast, both the progress
which the Kingdom of God has made in the world,
and the direction in which we are to advance
towards its consummation.

For both the parallel and the contrast between

Online LibraryLyman AbbottChristianaity and social problems → online text (page 2 of 25)