Newman Smyth.

Christian ethics online

. (page 14 of 48)
Online LibraryNewman SmythChristian ethics → online text (page 14 of 48)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Religion, p. (506).

'^ Kuenen has emphasized this difference in his National Religions, pp. 304-



CONTENTS OF THE CHRISTIAN IDEAL 137

existed in Buddhism from the first, and was constitutive
of it ; in Christianity it appeared later on, and as one ten-
dency of many in the development of the Church. " There
could be no Buddhism without 'bhikshus' — there is a
Christianity without monks." ^ Buddhism has no concep-
tion of the kingdom of God into which is to be brought all
the honor and the glory of the nations.

3. By means of these same tests of extension and
comprehension which are given in the absoluteness of
the Christian Ideal, we may judge and correct modern
ideals which have giown up partly under the influence
of Christian ideas, and partly without the pale of acknowl-
edged Christianity.

(1) Among these modern forms which the ideal of life
has assumed, may be mentioned, first, the aesthetic ideal,
as it took shape and color in literature in the writings of
Schiller, or as it has appeared (not without other Hebrew
elements) in the revived Hellenism of Matthew Arnold.

In this conception beauty and goodness ultimately coin-
cide. Good morals are good taste. The true life is the
beautiful life, and conversely a beautiful life will become
a true life.

The truth in this cesthetic ideal we should be the last
to question in the interest of Christian morality. The
life of the Son of man was the life of simple naturalness
and of perfect spiritual beauty. The Christ did not fail
to notice the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, and
the vine by the door. Nature to his eye was one sym-
bolism of the kingdom of heaven. Nor does the Chris-
tian beatitude fail to include the idea which possessed
Schiller of *a state of aesthetic perfection beyond the pres-
ent dynamic moral state, as he regarded it, or existing con-
dition of inharmonious conflict, — the play, greatly to be
desired, of a harmonious and beautiful life above the neces-
sity of moral endeavor and strife.^ Neither in Christian mor-

311, After i:)ointing out the evident resemblance, he says that " it is at this
very point tliat the deeper, nay, the fundamental, difference between the two
religions is revealed." i Ibid. p. 306.

2 "Man is only entirely man when he plays": this paradox Schiller ex-
plains at length in his Letters on .Esthetic Education (No. 15). In the closing



138 CHRISTIAN ETHICS

als should the intimate and natural relationship be denied
between the beautiful and the good ; we may readily grant
the assertion that the step from the aesthetic to the moral
is much easier than the step from the physical to the moral.
We feel instinctively that one ought to rise naturally and
easily from a life in love with beauty to a life at one with
goodness. We feel a painful contradiction between a high
aesthetic development and a life of moral turpitude. Art
ought to be sinless. Nor should the moral geniality, the
happy naturalness and freshness of feeling, and the fine
responsiveness of spirit to the world without, which be-
long to the aesthetic ideal of life, be lightly valued. A
true conception of life must reach in its extension to the
ideal ends of grace which Schiller sought to attain ; and it
should include in its summation of the good those ele-
ments of beauty and of joy which light up the morals
of aestheticism, — the laughter and the song of the sunny
life of that ancient world which has passed away.

But the aesthetic ideal is inadequate to life when taken
by itself, and without further extension and profounder
comprehension of the problem of good and evil than
Schiller gave to it in his letters on aesthetic education, or
than Matthew Arnold has reached even in his revived
Hellenism, with its infusion of Hebrew righteousness.
For the moral equation is not exhausted in terms of the
beautiful. The good equals the beautiful, and something
more ; the moral problem is not solved by the identifi-
cation of these two terms. Our moral ideal must reach
to the bottom of the deadly fact of moral evil, and prove
equal to the historic problem of suffering and sin. A
picture of an angel, however radiantly beautiful, does
not present a working model for a being who is under the
dominion of moral evil. His ethical conception of life
must reach to the depths of his actual misery as well as
extend to the skies. His idea of perfect virtue, and the
life made beautiful, must take account of the present facts

letter he rlistinfcuished between the dynamical state of rights, the ethical
state of duties, and tlie festhetic state, in which is the fulfilment of good. The
idea of beauty Schiller exalts as an idea of the reason, a traiiscendeutal idea.



CONTENTS OF THE CHRISTIAN IDEAL 139

of his moral liumiliation, and comprehend the processes
by which the evil may be cast out and whatsoever things
are lovely be restored. The true Jiuman ideal is the
ideal not of a pure angel, but of a sinner made angelic,
of a broken man delivered from the bondage of the flesh,
of a fallen being restored and exalted to the security of
the upright and harmonious life.

Owing to its want of extension towards the darker side
and altogether un^esthetic aspect of human existence, the
romantic ideal, and to some extent the literary ideals of
many writers, fail to do justice to certain necessary forms
of human virtue, and are therefore proved defective also by
our second test of comprehension of good. Grant that
Puritanism was unsesthetic; that Calvinism has been a
stern teacher of duty ; that Oliver Cromwell did not hew
to a line of beauty ; that the early type of religious faith
in New England lacked color, warmth, and grace. Yet an
ideal which should have no room in it for the militant
virtues, and which should lay aside the strength of Puri-
tanism, would fail of historic comprehension. Calvinism
has much to answer for on the eesthetic score ; Puritanism
has followed the arduous path of duty without looking to
either side, and noticing how fair are the fields, and how
full of color and song the nature which God' has filled to
overflowing with the joy of life. Admit that Puritanism
wore needless blinders, — it went straight on and carried
man's burden ; it lifted by main strength the whole world
to a higher order, and opened a purer and grander pros-
pect for humanity. Grant that the true ideal should
include the aesthetic, extend to the least flower, and own
the simplest jo}^ of nature ; it should not, therefore, exclude
the awe of the Calvinistic conception of the divine sov-
ereignty, and the power of that tremendous sense of man's
responsibility which Puritanism succeeded in maintaining.
The iron need not be taken from the blood, nor the com-
manding vision of righteousness from the soul, when the
touch becomes fine, the heart tender, and the eye sunny, in
the world of beauty, light, and love.

Schiller's ideal of a life formed under the influence of



140 CHRISTIAN ETHICS

the beautiful receives something of this needed tonic of
righteousness, it is true, in Matthew Arnold's Hebraized
Hellenism ; yet his idea of conduct touched by a sense
of some power not ourselves, which makes for righteous-
ness, and pervaded with sweetness and light, needs itself
to strike deeper root into the sources of the Old Testa-
ment righteousness; it should draw its happy reasonable-
ness of virtue from a more intimate and abiding knowledge
of the Father, in doing whose will the strong Son of God
found his life filled with a sweetness and light such as has
never been manifested in the whole kingdom of Hellenism,
ancient or modern, such as can be known only to the chil-
dren of heaven.

(2) The Evolutionary Ideal.

Without repeating the ethical criticism to which in
other relations this ideal renders itself liable (pp. 84 sq.), we
insist at this point that it should be subjected rigorously to
those moral tests to which we shall endeavor to bring the
Christian Ideal throughout our subsequent discussions of
the virtues, duties, and motives of life ; namely, the severe
tests of moral extension, comprehension, and absoluteness.

The evolutionary ethics claims to cover the present facts
of life, both individual and social ; it will not presume to
extend into the unknown regions of the hereafter, or to
determine the possibilities of the spirit. It has an eye
single to human welfare in the progressive development
of the human good on this earth. It builds no watch-
tower for observations in moral astronomy. The heavens
must remain unknown. But whatever may be our knowl-
edge or our ignorance of them, nevertheless the heavens
belong to the environment of the earth. The unknown
power to which Mr. Spencer reduces the ultimate causa-
tion of phenomena, is the formative and efficient energy of
life throughout all its phenomena. Known or unknown,
it is power to be reckoned with in our moral dynamics.
Even though this ultimate force be a mystery, it is the
one universal power with which we have to do. Some
determination, therefore, of our relation to it, and some
practical reckoning with it in our conduct, must belong to



CONTENTS OF THE CHRISTIAN IDEAL 141

the moral history and the moral stability of this life. I
am utterly ignorant of the nature of gravitation ; but to
the law of gravitation I must conform in every physical
action. I may know nothing of the " divinity that
shapes our ends " ; but to the law of the ultimate Force,
the Unknown Power, the God over all, I must learn in all
my actions, and in every vital breath, to conform, if I am
to preserve my moral equilibrium, and to live a happy life.
So that the whole range and significance of those ethical
elements which belong to man's spiritual nature and en-
vironment cannot be ruled out, and counted as though
they were nothing, by the mere assertion that they tran-
scend moral experience and belong to the unrevealed mys-
tery of life. Known or unknown, revealed or unrevealed,
they have relations to conduct ; these powers of the world
to come touch on all sides our moral consciousness ; they
shape our thoughts and dreams of our ideal ends of being.
Morals must at the very least be left open towards this
higher side of human possibility, and a science which
would close the circle w^ithout inclusion of this larger
prospect will possess but a limited and confined sphere of
good.

Positivism has indeed sought to keep the circle open on the upper cir-
cumference of human nature, and to commend this larger good, in its
religion of humanity. How far positivism has succeeded in its endeavor
to create for itself a religion, after having devoured all religions before it
(like the lean kine in Pharaoh's dream), is a question which belongs rather
to the study of comparative religion than to a treatise on ethics ; our
present contention is that the scientific conception of the good cannot,
without limitation and want of moral comprehension, be finished and closed
up in terms of present welfare, as writers like Mr. Stephen would define
it exclusively in the goods of present life ; in other words, to be exten-
sively and comprehensively ethical, and with an absolute righteousness,
the scientific induction of virtue must be left wide open on the spiritual
side, and its insufficiency be confessed to include in itself the whole ideal
of man's being and destiny.

The scope of this general criticism of the evolutionary ideal, pure and
simple, unsupplemented by the deductions of a spiritual psychology, and
not expanded in the light of the life of the Christ, will appear further on
in our more particular consideration of the relations and range of almost
every virtue and duty of life.



142 CHRISTIAN ETHICS

(3) Modern Socialistic Ideals.

These are not by any means necessarily unchristian;
often they are advanced as ideals directly in the line of
the true Christian idea of society. For convenience, and
in order that we may avoid repetition, we reserve discus-
sion of these ideals to a later chapter ; we observe in pass-
ing that under the tests which we are applying they must
be judged by their competency or their failure to meet the
requirements of life in all directions, and to do justice to
the several elements which are to be harmonized in the
ultimate good of human life.^

In this chapter we have considered the Christian Ideal
in its primary historical revelation, and have determined
its general characteristics in the Christian consciousness of
it; we have also briefly compared other ideals with it, and
seen at a glance its superior comprehensiveness.

The contents of this Christian Ideal, so far as they have
been realized in Christian experience, or may now be
apprehended in our efforts to reach after " better things,
and the things that accompany salvation " ^ will appear
more concretely, as we shall proceed to treat in detail of
the Christian virtues and duties. In accordance with these
general characteristics of the true ideal — its moral abso-
luteness, or holiness ; its extension, or adequacy to life ; and
its comprehension, or inclusion of all goods — our Chris-
tian determinations of character and standards of conduct
are to be formed and judged.

1 Mr, Mackenzie discriminates three elements which should be recognized
and harmonized in the social ideal : " (1) individual culture, (2) the conquest
of nature, and (3) right social relations" {Introdvction to Social PhilosopJuj,
p. 241). The organic ideal " must include such a degree of freedom as is
necessary for the working out of the individual life. It must include such a
degree of socialism as is necessary to prevent exploitation and a brutalizing
struggle for existence, as well as to secure to each individual such leisure as
is required for the development of the higher life. It must include such a
degree of aristocratic rule as is necessary for the advance of culture and for
the wise conduct of social affairs" (p. 293). To these elements he adds a
fourth, "the principle which is necessary to combine them." This principle
he finds in " the recognition of vital relationships," or, " Fraternity." Chris-
tian ethics has in its supreme virtue of love the organizing principle of the
elements of the social ideal, and without this principle the new social order
cannot be formed out of the social orders which are passine awav.

'^Heb.vi. 9.



CONTENTS OF THE CHEISTIAN IDEAL 143

Before we are ready, however, to proceed farther in this
direction, we must study, in the proper historical method
of Christian ethics, the process through which the moral
ideal comes to realization among men ; we should seek to
understand the successive epochs as well as the modes and
conditions of its progress in the world ; in short, we must
consider the facts and laws of the progressive realization
on earth of the kingdom of the Christian Ideal — the king-
dom of heaven.



CHAPTER III

THE REALIZATION OF THE MORAL IDEAL

The Christian Ideal, which was revealed in Christ, and
which is taught by his Spirit among men, has not yet been
fully realized in the life of humanity, nor is it perfectly
reflected even in the best Christian consciousness of any
age. The Spirit still convinces the world of sin. The
kingdom of organized love has been begun on earth, but
it is far from completion. The Christian Ideal of life is a
reality among men, but not a finished reality. The whole
common life of humanity has not yet become the com-
munion of the Holy Ghost.

There is to be followed in history a moral process con-
tinued in moral freedom, through which the good finds
progressive fulfilment, and the moral ideal comes with the
increasing purpose of the ages to realization. History is
no accidental congeries of events, no heap of circumstances
raised and scattered by the winds ; human history betrays
the signs of a moral order, and a moral progress. History
in its profoundest significance is a moral and spiritual
movement towards the ideal or the highest good.^

We have already indicated in the introduction (p. 27 sq.)
the conditions, or postulates, which are necessary to this
process of life towards a moral end. We proceed now to
trace historically the successive steps of this moral process
through which the ideal draws towards its realization in
the history of mankind. We must seek to discover the
principle or law of the moral life which corresponds to
each of these main epochs of moral development. We
shall need to inquire also into the moral methods by means

1 See the author's Old Faiths in Neio Light, eh. ii.
144



REALIZATION OF THE MORAL IDEAL 145

of which the moral movement of history has been carried
forward ; and then we shall be prepared for the further
inquiry (which sliould be considered before we can pass
to an intelligent discussion of Christian virtues and duties),
to what extent in existing types of character and institu-
tions of society the Christian Ideal may be regarded as
having already been brought to pass, and made a visible
kingdom of good on earth ; and further in Avhat respects
the ideal is to be apprehended by us as a book of unfulfilled
Christian prophecy.

We shall accordingly discuss, first, the epochs and cor-
responding principles of the moral process in history.

Ethics implies relations ; moral law is law for a being in
certain relations. Ethics involves, on the one hand, a sen-
tiency of a peculiar kind (however philosophers may define
it), which we discriminate as moral feeling; and on the
other hand, certain acts to be done, truths to be owned, and
good to be desired, which impress themselves upon our
moral sentiency, and which, as we perceive them, assume
an authority over us which we call the reign of conscience.
Even though the real objectivity of such ethical worths
should be denied, still, all moralists must lend to them
a certain mental objectivity ; for the ethical state con-
sists in a distinctive quality of consciousness, — a recogni-
tion of self as under law, a consciousness of self as both
free and at the same time under authority. An infinite
being might be conceived as having no relation except to
himself, as being both subject and object to himself, and
that ethically as well as metaphysically. So God may be
said to have moral life in himself. But a finite being hves in
all the extent and range of his existence in relation to some
environment, and the kind of life, whether physical or higher
life, is determined in relation to the nature of the environ-
ment to which the life responds, in which one has his be-
ing. Our natural ethical consciousness, like our sense of
physical existence, is a responsiveness of our being — a re-
sponsiveness of which our being is made capable in the
higher as well as lower directions, — to our human en-
vironment: a response in the one direction to the pres-



146 CHRISTIAN ETHICS

ence of outward nature, and a response in the higher
direction to the moral and spiritual order in which we also
live and move and have our being. Hence the moral
sphere and its law wears always an aspect of objectivity
to the thoughts of man's heart; and, despite all the
philosophers, continues thus to be objective to the common
moral sense of mankind. We grow to consciousness of
ourselves as under law, not as law to ourselves.

But this is the moral consciousness in its objectivity as
we now realize it; what was it in its primitive state, in
the early awakening of it in some prehistoric man ? Look-
ing back over the moral process (so far as it is historic)
we observe that the development has advanced on two re-
lated lines; the evolution of morals has not been simple
but dual. Both the moral environment has been advanced,
and the moral sentiency has been intensified. There may
be an increase of the moral materials for life, and an en-
hancement, also, of the human power to appropriate those
materials. To each stage in the development of the moral
environment there corresponds an adaptation or advance-
ment of the living principle of moral appropriation in the
subject. So that the successive stages of moral growth,
the great epochs of human progress in ethical life, are to
be studied in this double aspect of them, — first, we are to
survey the moral environment, to take into account the
outward conditions, the degree of light or moral revela-
tion, the materials of moral judgment and motive, which
are objectively given in an age ; and secondly, the appro-
priating principle, or the special moral adaptation of the
subject to the ethical conditions of his time.

I. THE PREHISTORIC STAGE OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT

The beginnings of life, as well as the ends of being, are
beyond knowledge. There can be no positive science of
prehistoric man. There is frequent need of reminding
scientific as well as theological speculators of Aristotle's
observation that we know only tlie middle, not the begin-
nings or the ends of things. We may easily fall prey to a



REALIZATION OF THE MORAL IDEAL 147

scientific or a theological dogmatism concerning the pre-
historic conditions of things human ; Darwinism no less
than Calvinism may be tempted by a theory of man's first
estate. The fabled first man may have been more or less
richly endowed wdth intellect and moral sense ; he may
have been more like the beasts that perish, or more like
an angel of God, than our science or our theology has
conjectured ; what we know with positiveness is the fact
that man, so early as we can follow his track on the
earth, was a moral agent ; and so soon as man was able
to make for himself a history he began to make for him-
self a moral record. What we know of the historic ethi-
cal consciousness compels us to assume that there must
have been from the beginning of man's life on earth an
ethical potency and promise for such moral life as we find
to have been actually achieved in his history. We must
assume in the earliest and most nebulous beginnings of
human life a minimum of moral capacity, which was large
enough, and distinctively moral enough, to afford a suffi-
cient start and momentum for the subsequent evolution
of which we have knowledge in history. Anything less
than this would leave the moral history of the world
Avithout rational beginning or intelligent explanation.
The first moral root in the soil of nature must have been
quickened with the same kind of life that has grown out
of nature into the fruitfulness of the world's ethics. There
must be morality enough grounded and rooted in nature
for the moral consciousness which has risen above nature.
There must have been from the beginning enough ethical
and spiritual supernaturalness involved in nature to ren-
der intelligible to us the moral and religious supernatural-
ism which in the course of nature has brought forth the
fruits of the spirit.

1. We assume, therefore, the existence, in the dim
beginnings, of some manlike being who had been born
into moral capacity for life. At some point evolution had
received, when all things were ready, the fire of the spirit,
and moral life flamed into self-consciousness. How such
a being, capable of beginning a moral history, was fash-



148 CHRISTIAN ETHICS

ioiied, or when, may be a question of scientific imagination
or of theological concern; but it is immaterial from the
ethical point of view. The fact of a real moral start, in a
being capable of moral life and growth, is for ethics the
material fact. Adam may remain for us a general type of
man in the beginning of his moral existence. According
to Genesis that earliest moral stage, that first chapter in
man's moral history, is to be conceived of as a state alike
of moral innocence, immaturity, and instability. The
capacity for moral life had been reached, but a real right-
eousness (as Augustine would say) remained to be realized
in the drama of man's temptation, fall, and recovery
from sin.

It should not be forgotten, however, how little is made of Adam in
the rest of the Bible ; only a very few allusions to Adam's fall occur in
all the succeeding books of the Bible. Jesus never seems to have men-
tioned him in his teaching. Paul draws a contrast between the old and
the new man, the earthly and the spiritual, by a reference to the first
chapters of Genesis. The prehistoric moral man possesses little ethical
interest except as a postulate or necessary beginning for moral history.

This stage of moral beginnings we must conceive of as
a condition in which the possibility of evil is left open.
Moral capacity, together with moral immaturity, is all that
we need postulate in order to render the entrance of law
and the beginning of sin conceivable.



Online LibraryNewman SmythChristian ethics → online text (page 14 of 48)