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to interfere with plans for ameliorating that
which is present would be immoral. Most
Christians are disposed to think more of
bringing in a state of righteousness into the
visible world than of securing bliss in one
which lies beyond the grave. But it must be
observed and here popular Christianity is
under a complete misapprehension that a
future life occupied but little space in the
teaching of the Founder of Christianity. It
was a Kingdom of God on earth, and eternal
life without particular relation to time, which
were the main subjects of Christ's preaching.
And it was by degrees, as the early Christians
ceased to have a vivid hope of their Master's
return in glory to the earth, that the doctrine
of the" future life for individuals became more
powerful in the Church. The modern tendency
is therefore in a measure a reversion to the
primitive doctrine of Christianity.

On the whole, then, a summary examination
shows that we need not be alarmed at the
appearance of clashing between ordinary
Christian and philosophic ethics. Each in
fact has something to learn from the other.
Judaea and Hellas are the two great instructors




86 EVOLUTION IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS

of mankind : they combined to found the
Christian Church, and they must still combine
to found the Church of the future.

But the history of ancient civilisation makes
it very clear that the coming of Christianity
was the saving of the world. Stoic morality
had reached a high level, but it affected only
the few, and even those few primarily on the
intellectual side. Seneca was a great moralist
so far as teaching went, but as minister of
Nero he was involved in many transactions
which were at the best of doubtful character.
The end of the Stoic philosophy was a sort of
deadlock, beyond which no lines of progress
could be seen. But with Christianity there
came into the world another spirit, a spirit of
active self-devotion, of earnest passion, which
transformed every thought and feeling of man-
kind. Without the Cross, mankind would
never have worked out the way to those
higher levels of active virtue which are re-
vealed in the best Christian lives, and which
make us feel that life is worth living. The
essential Christian morality has been justified
by the course of history, and often inspires
even those who think the current Christian
morality in some respects imperfect.



MODERNITY IN CHRISTIAN
ETHICS

OF essential religion, at all events in Christen-
dom, the New Testament must always be the
text-book, never to be superseded ; at most to
be interpreted and supplemented. Whatever
side we may take in the difficult metaphysical
views in regard to the person of the Saviour,
however we may differ one from the other as
to the comparative values of sacraments and
spiritual faith, we shall all find in the teaching
of the Saviour, and his immediate successors,
an inimitable statement of the nature of re-
ligion, of the relation of man to God and to
eternal life. But at the same time it is natural
and inevitable that some parts of that teaching
should be more attractive in appeal, more
direct in influence, to one age than to another ;
that to one church or school one side, and to
another another side, of the original teaching
of Christianity will seem the most essential

87



88 EVOLUTION IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS

and indispensable. It is the great and in-
estimable advantage of Christianity that this
original teaching is not set forth methodically
in any treatise. The weakness of the religion
of Islam, the reason of its want of elasticity
and of power of growth and self-adaptation,
arises from the fact that it has in the Koran a
code drawn up by one man and established for
all time. The New Testament is quite differ-
ent. It includes treatises written by many
authors, some of whom took one view and
some another of the essential teaching of
Christianity. The notion that it is of infallible
accuracy, that one passage of Scripture can be
always "reconciled" with another, is a grotesque
misconception. Christianity is not like a
graven image, but like a growing tree. And
fresh generations alike of students and admirers
can always approach it from a fresh side, and
find in it what is suited to their needs and
aspirations.

Like individuals, churches also come to the
fountain of inspiration, and take what they
find necessary for life and growth. One branch
of the Church will care most about a kindly
and active benevolence, another will most
highly value, and probably materialise, rite and
sacrament, another will make most of a personal
relation to the unseen Head of the faith.



MODERNITY IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS 89



It is, I think, not difficult to discover the
particular feature in the primitive teaching of
Christianity which will now make the clearest
appeal to progressive minds in the Church. It
is a feature which, for obvious reasons, has not
been fully appreciated in the past. Some
modern theologians have keenly felt its power-
I would especially instance Robertson of
Brighton, whose utterances are sometimes
consciously, but more often unconsciously,
inspired by it. It is the sense of law and
order in the world of spirit and of conduct, the
feeling that as in all countries there is a
political constitution, so in this deeper world
there is order, fixed relations, a divine kingdom
as opposed to the temporal states of the world.

If the change of mental outlook and the
increase of knowledge compel us to revise our
notion of the ethics of Christianity, it is prob-
able that the change will be in the same
direction in which we have modified our
Christian belief. In my recent little work,
The Evolution of Christian Doctrine, I have
set forth to the best of my ability the lines on
which changes in the intellectual conception of
Christianity naturally take place. We have
to consider whether parallel changes in the



90 EVOLUTION IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS

ethical ideas of Christianity are urgent. I
strongly hold that this is the case.

It is clearly the greater fullness and better
organisation of knowledge, whether of the
physical world of mankind or of history, which
has made us reconsider the primitive beliefs of
Christianity and reinterpret the creeds. And,
similarly, the widely spread and steadily ad-
vancing sense among men of a reign of law,
of a fixed order in the world, has made us
averse from regarding divine control as con-
sisting in sudden and cataclysmic interruptions
of the course of events in life and history.
We can believe in, and in a measure trace,
such control ; but it comes in rather as gradu-
ally and profoundly working tendencies than
as an arbitrary punishment of sin or a direct
furthering of human well-being.

To take an obvious example. In past times
it would have seemed natural to regard the
terrible sufferings inflicted upon the nations
of Europe by the great war as a direct divine
punishment for transgression. And we some-
times hear men whose minds are at what may
be called the cataclysmic stage speculating
whether that war has come as a punishment
for a laxity of sexual morality, or for intem-
perance in drink, or for modifying traditional
orthodoxy of belief. But one who really



MODERNITY IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS 91

believed in evolution would not think in this
fashion. He would try to discover what were
really the causes which led to the war as a
natural consequence. And while fully be-
lieving that the war did not stand outside the
scheme of divine government, he would regard
the divine control as acting not in independence
of physical and moral laws, but through them.
That the latter point of view was that taken
by the Founder of Christianity may be seen
by his repudiation of the commonly held
notion that the eighteen on whom the tower
of Siloam fell and slew them, were slain as a
punishment for their wickedness. To each of
the eighteen death came as a crisis in the pro-
vidential course of their lives, since not even a
sparrow could fall to the ground without divine
control ; but yet the notion that outward and
visible misfortune tracked sinners was both
superficial and inadequate.

There could not be a more definite state-
ment of the dominance of law in the ethical
and human world than is to be found in some
of the parables and the sayings of Jesus, especi-
ally in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew. They
embody the idea of order and fixed sequence.
The Pharisees and Sadducees, whose minds
were in the cataclysmic stage, were demand-
ing of Jesus a miracle, a sign from heaven.



92 EVOLUTION IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS

But he replied that the signs from heaven
were not cataclysmic, but came in the regular
course of things, to be discerned by all who
had eyes. When the Pharisees saw a red glow
in the sky at evening they expected a fine day
to follow. When in the morning they saw the
sky red and lowering they expected a storm.
They knew that physical events moved by
law ; but they did not, Jesus said, see that in
the world of history and conduct there was
law also. They could not read the signs of
the times. A similar warning is given, when
the disciples asked what would be the sign of
the second coming. " Look," said Jesus, " at
the fig-tree : when her branch is now become
tender, and putteth forth her leaves, ye know
that the summer is nigh." There could be no
more striking example of the wisdom that
comes from above, and which belongs to all
time, than this emphasis on the parallelism
between the visible world of nature and the
world of ideas which works gradually through
nature.

The same note is struck again and again in
the synoptic discourses. " The good man out
of his good treasure bringeth forth good things ;
and the evil man out of his evil treasure
bringeth forth evil things." " Do men gather
grapes of thorns or figs of thistles ? " " By their



MODERNITY IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS 93

fruits ye shall know them." Was there ever
a clearer assertion of the rule of law in the
human world ? By their fruits ! Here is an
enunciation of the very principle of ethics, the
introduction of which in modern times has
made a more scientific treatment of morals
possible. As I have shown in the last chapters,
modern utilitarian views of ethics are often
hasty and do not go to the bottom of things.
They are not fully baptised into Christ. But
they yet mark a great progress from the
undeveloped and superficial ethics of the
eighteenth century. And their living prin-
ciple is clearly set forth in the teaching of
Jesus. The very essence of them may be
found in the profound saying, " The Sabbath
was made for man, and not man for the
Sabbath." That saying is as epoch-making
in the moral and spiritual sphere as was the
work of Galileo in the realm of natural science.
Why should we not apply it to a few more
modern institutions ? Episcopacy was made
for man, and not man for Episcopacy. The
sacraments were made for man, and not man
for the sacraments.

And St Paul, in this as in so many other
cases, takes up his Master's teaching, though
he sets it differently. " God is not mocked,"
he writes : " whatsoever a man soweth, that




94 EVOLUTION IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS

shall he also reap." Every man's work, he
teaches, shall be tried by fire, which shall
show of what character it really is. The test
will be not a mere cataclysmic decision, but
the power of resistance which the work pos-
sesses. Again he writes, " He that soweth
unto his own flesh shall of the flesh reap
corruption ; but he that soweth unto the
spirit shall of the spirit reap eternal life."
The Fourth Evangelist has a very similar
phrase, "That which is born of the flesh is
flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is
spirit." We have not yet half exhausted the
profound meaning of such utterances.

And we find in the New Testament not
only statements of the prevalence of law in
the spiritual world, but also a full recognition
of the process of evolution in that world. No
more exact and satisfying account of Christian
ethics can be found than that which is con-
tained in some of the parables of our Lord.
The parable of the mustard seed shows how
the Christian idea of the way of life will grow
and spread, throwing out branches on this
side and on that, until it becomes a mighty
tree. The parable of the leaven shows that
this growth is not one which can be wrought
from without, by human wisdom and force,
but one which develops from within, producing



MODERNITY IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS 95

gradual changes which in time amount to a
complete change of visible character. The
parable of the tares shows how always and
everywhere evil comes in and mingles itself
with what is good, so that life must always be
a struggle ; and evolution no mere progressive
victory of good over evil, but a battle in which
now good and now evil seems to be stronger
and to have the upper hand, however good be
destined to prevail in the end. The parable
of the sower shows how the seeds of good often
fall on barren and hostile soil, and seem to fail
of the end for which they were adapted. The
parable of the treasure hidden in a field shows
how taking a share in the evolution of the
ideal kingdom is the one thing that matters,
the thing in comparison with which all earthly
advantages and rewards are unworthy of a
moment's consideration. Thus the progres-
siveness, the inwardness, the painfulness, the
eternal value of the evolution of the divine
kingdom in the world of sense, is set forth
as the one thing for which man came into
existence, the secret of the universe, the gate
leading to eternal life.

This conception of a fixed order and eternal
laws in the human as well as in the natural
world is an anticipation of all the progress
which the modern intellect has made in the




9tf EVOLUTION IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS

matter of mental and moral psychology. It
contains the seeds of a tree which has taken
root among us, but the full growth of which
belongs to future ages.

As societies rise above the mere savage
condition, there gradually dawns upon them
the sense of order in the visible world, of fixed
uniformities. And as they grasp this idea they
find within themselves the power to achieve
certain ends which they feel to be desirable.
Until they have realised the necessary connec-
tion between means and ends, they do not
study the means, but try by magic to induce
the controlling powers, which even the most
savage are able to discern, to bring them
success. At first their universe is filled with
demons, good and bad, on whose clashings
and on whose favour the life and happiness
of mankind depend. The best sign of progress
towards a less degraded condition is the recog-
nition among them not of a chaos of demons
but of an orderly hierarchy of gods, who accept
some principles of reason and justice, and may
be trusted to treat their votaries in an ethical
way. Progress in the religious outlook is soon
followed by recognition of law and order in
the processes of nature and in the lives of men.
And so the horizon of men grows wider, and
their view is carried further into the future.



MODERNITY IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS 97

It becomes worth while to take trouble, to
undergo toil and hardship, in order to attain
benefits in the future. And when there arise
great lawgivers, men who can take a compre-
hensive survey of society, the first steps in the
ladder of progress are rapidly taken, a path
is begun which leads through the jungle of
savagery to the settled cultivated fields of
an ordered existence.

Men need not, and indeed usually they do
not, give up belief in the working in the
world of spiritual forces, but they learn to
look upon those forces as reasonable and
moral, as working not immediately on the
external environment, but inwardly in the
spirits of men, giving wisdom and courage,
manliness and endurance, enabling men to
help themselves, and to lay the foundations
of a happier and more assured life.

To those who hold evolutional views in
religion certain principles will be clear. They
will feel that in each age of the world, in every
country, and in every individual life, the divine
tendency is in a certain direction, but that it
rests with the will of men whether the divine
purpose shall take actual form in history or
whether it shall be, at least partially, hindered
and frustrated. God and man work together
in the moulding of history ; but God works

7




98 EVOLUTION IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS

through man, and man can only accomplish
anything by conforming to the conditions laid
down by God as regards the consequences of
actions, as well as by divine aid within.

The tendencies to be traced in nature are,
so to speak, the rude material on which man
has to work, to produce for himself better
surroundings. If he plans his action without
regard to natural law and tendency, he is sure
to fail ; these offer him a path to success ; but
he can only reach success by moving with
purpose in the ways which nature offers him.
If natural selection works unhindered, progress
will be slow. If man tries to carry out pur-
poses, however good ethically, in defiance of
natural conditions, there will be no progress
at all, but mere failure. But when man does
his best, and has practical respect for the ways
of nature, then progress may be very rapid.

The history of the world of living things is
on the whole a history of improvement. No
one would deny that the animal creation in its
present state is at a higher level than when
the dragons of the prime tore one another
to pieces. In this improvement man has in
comparatively recent times taken a hand. He
has discovered how, by breeding and care,
greatly to improve the physique and qualities
of some of the animals which surround him.



MODERNITY IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS 99

He knows that spontaneous variations and
the survival of the fittest prevent undesirable
forms from prevailing in the world, but do not
by any means always give wholly good results.
Man has to intervene with definite ideals in
order that the races of animals may grow in
the direction of what is best, or at least in
the direction of that which man considers
the best.

In himself man has not the power to
conquer his external surroundings, and build
himself a noble civilisation. But he can put
himself on the side of the cosmic power which
tends towards good ; by self-control and self-
surrender he can both learn in what the
best good consists, and gain energy to strive
towards such good. If he thinks that this
rests in the force of his own will and clever-
ness, he falls back into a condition parallel
to that of the savage who thinks that by spell
and magic he can compel the spiritual powers
to do his bidding. As he has to study the
facts of the material world in order that he
may develop a material civilisation, so he
has to study the ways of the spiritual life,
in order that his ends may be worthy of
attainment, and suited to produce happiness.
This is the teaching of all the great religions
of the world, as well as of the developed




100 EVOLUTION IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS

philosophy of Greece. Arid it is the teach-
ing which is enshrined for all time in the
New Testament, and is the root-teaching of
Christianity as to the Kingdom of God.

Christianity, indeed, adds to it new and
wonderful elements. It adds the doctrine of
the divine fatherhood, of the love and sym-
pathy which God feels for man. But the
higher doctrine of Christianity by no means
does away with the more universal principles
of religion, which indeed, in the Gospels, are
fully set forth in precept and parable.

II

Undoubtedly the main cause of the hatred
of England which has of late, to the surprise
of many, flamed out in Germany is envy, envy
of our wealth and commerce, of our colonies
and fleet, of the great position which England
has acquired in the world. It is the desire
of material wealth and prosperity ; and the
feeling that England is in these matters the
chief impediment in the way. But mingled
with this feeling there is another. The view
has been sedulously cultivated by German
thinkers and statesmen that England has
become effete, that she has been corrupted
by wealth and prosperity, and has lost the
hardy manliness and spirit of adventure by



MODERNITY IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS 1Q1

which her empire was won. Germany, on
the other hand, they have taught, is full of
energy and efficiency which has no sufficient
outlet: whence it is the mission of Germany
to thrust England aside, and to take her
place. Has there been any justification for
this view ?

It may fairly be said that this indictment
has been answered by the experience of the
war. It is clear that any relaxation of moral
fibre has only been on the surface. The way
in which hundreds of thousands of our young
men have volunteered to give up an easy
existence, even to abandon wife and child,
to meet the horrors of trench warfare, has
been a marvel. Our merchant seamen, too,
have risked daily not only their lives, but
the prospect of starvation in boats on the
open sea. And women of all classes have
eagerly undertaken national tasks not merely
as nurses or workers in factories, but in many
occupations quite new to them, and very try-
ing. We need not now defend our country
from the charge of effeteness. But yet one
feels that in certain directions the German
indictment had some justification. Though
the heart of the nation was sound, its head
was not what it might be. It was deficient
in discipline and organisation, in a sense of



102 EVOLUTION IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS

the seriousness of facts and the inevitability
of their consequences. It had a great dislike
to organisation and discipline, and a very im-
perfect realisation of the need of method and
training in every branch of the national life.
Of course, in many fields now discipline and
method have been forced on us, and a high
level of efficiency has been acquired not only
in the fighting services but in such matters as
the organisation of hospitals and the regula-
tion of supplies. But in many fields, where
the stress is less severe, the need of method
and organisation has been less fully realised.
And a great many people think of the more
disciplined ways of living as a mere temporary
necessity, which will pass away when peace
comes. The mass of English people can
scarcely be said yet to have learned the
lesson, and to have understood the serious-
ness not only of the present conflict but of
the future stress. Multitudes go on their ac-
customed ways, as if nothing were changed.
Workmen strike, even in the war factories,
on small questions of pay or privilege. The
expenditure on objects of pure luxury has
been enormous. One still sees from the
newspapers that in many quarters individu-
alism is rampant. And still people are apt
to be indignant rather at the punishment of



MODERNITY IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS 103

crime than at the deeds which caused the
punishment.

It is a part of the same mental attitude
that instead of giving the utmost pains and
care to find out what is really going on in the
world, instead of an earnest devotion to reality,
we have been content to believe on small
evidence, or on no evidence at all, whatever we
would like to believe, whatever would absolve
us from painful exertions. This is largely the
result of trusting the newspapers, instead of
believing the verdict of those who really know.
The newspapers find that their circulation
depends upon their uttering smooth things
and concealing all that is really alarming.
We trust them as the Jews trusted the false
prophets who prophesied smooth things. I
am tempted to repeat, though of course
without wholly accepting, a very powerful
indictment which appeared in an anonymous
letter printed in the Times, 1 bitter though it
be. " The chief characteristic of the ordinary
Englishman is not merely a willingness, but an
active wish, to believe any sort of rubbish which
may happen to suit his whims and prejudices."
" Numbers of Englishmen believe (if the word
can be used in such a connection) that we are
the lost Tribes of Israel. Christian Science has

1 Educational Supplement, 4th April Ipl6.



104 EVOLUTION IN CHRISTIAN ETHICS

made greater progress of late years than all
the other forms of religion or religiosity put
together. Mr Norman Angell counts his
devotees by the hundred thousand. The
victims of these crazes, and of countless others
of the same sort, closely resemble their poli-
ticians: they don't ask for evidence or authority
or inherent probability ; if the thing takes


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Online LibraryPercy GardnerEvolution in Christian ethics → online text (page 6 of 15)