The Jesus of History
T. R. Glover

Part 3 out of 4

religion--to reassert its dark side, better forgotten, all the
horrible emphasis on sin and its consequences introduced into the
sunny teaching of Jesus by Paul of Tarsus, and alien to it? Before
we answer this question in any direct way, it is worth while to
realize for how many of the real thinkers, and the great teachers of
mankind, this distinction between good and evil has been
fundamental. They have not invented it as a theory on which to base
religion, but they have found it in human life, one and all of them.
If Walt Whitman or Swami Vivekananda overlook the difference between
virtue and vice, and do honour to the courtesan, it simply means
that they are bad thinkers, bad observers. The deeper minds see more
clearly and escape the confusion into which the slight and quick,
the sentimental, hurl themselves. Above all, when God in any degree
grows real to a man, when a man seriously gives himself not to some
mere vague "contemplation" of God but to the earnest study of God's
ways in human affairs, and of God's laws and their working, the
great contrasts in men's responses to God's rule become luminous.

When God matters to a man, all life shows the result. Good and bad,
right and wrong stand out clear as the contrast between light and
darkness--they cannot be mistaken, and they matter--and matter for
ever. They are no concern of a moment. Action makes character; and,
until the action is undone again, the effect on character is not
undone. Right and wrong are of eternal significance now in virtue of
the reality of God.

Gautama Buddha, for instance, and the greater Hindu thinkers, in
their doctrine of Karma, have taught a significance inherent in good
and evil, which we can only not call boundless. Buddha did this
without any great consciousness of God; and many Indian thinkers
have so emphasized the doctrine that it has taken all the stress
laid on "Bhakti" by Ramanuja and others to restore to life a
perspective or a balance, however it should be described, that will
save men from utter despair. Nor is it Eastern thinkers only who
have taught men the reality of heaven and hell. The poetry of
Aeschylus is full of his great realization of the nexus between act
and outcome. With all the humour and charm there is in Plato, we
cannot escape his tremendous teaching on the age-long consequences
of good and evil in a cosmos ordered by God. Carlyle, in our own
days, realized the same thing--he learnt it no doubt from his
mother; and learnt it again in London. In Mrs. Austen's
drawing-room, with "Sidney Smith guffawing," and "other people
prating, jargoning, to me through these thin cobwebs Death and
Eternity sate glaring." "How will this look in the Universe," he
asks, "and before the Creator of Man?" When someone in his old age
challenged him with the question, "Who will be judge?"--(it is
curious how every sapient inanity strikes, as on an original idea,
on the notion that opinions differ, and therefore--apparently, if
their thought has any consequence--are as good one as another)--Who
will be judge? "Hell fire will be judge," said Carlyle, "God
Almighty will be the judge now and always." There is a gulf between
good and evil, and each is inexorably fertile of consequence. There
is no escaping the issue of moral choice. That is the conclusion of
men who have handled human experience in a serious spirit. As
physical laws are deducible from the reactions of matter and force,
and are found to be uniform and inevitable, fundamental in the
nature of matter and force, so clear-thinking men in the course of
ages have deduced moral laws from their observation of human nature,
laws as uniform, inevitable and fundamental. In neither case has it
been that men invented or imagined the laws; in both cases it has
been genuine discovery of what was already existent and operative,
and often the discovery has involved surprise.

If Jesus had failed to see laws so fundamental, which other teachers
of mankind have recognized, it is hardly likely that his teaching
would have survived or influenced men as it has done. Mankind can
dispense with a teacher who misses patent facts, whatever his charm.
But there never was any doubt that Jesus was alive to the difference
between right and wrong. His critics saw this, but they held that he
confused moral issues, and that his distinctions in the ethical
sphere were badly drawn.

Jesus could not have ignored the problem of sin and forgiveness,
even if he had wished to ignore it. To this the thought of mankind
had been gravitating, and in Jewish and in Greek thought, conduct
was more and more the centre of everything. For the Stoics morals
were the dominant part of philosophy; but for our present purpose we
need not go outside the literature of the New Testament. Sin was the
keynote of the preaching of John the Baptist. It is customary to
connect the mission of Jesus with that of John, and to find in the
Baptist's preaching either the announcement of his Successor (as is
said with most emphasis in the Fourth Gospel), or (as some now say)
the impulse which drove Jesus of Nazareth into his public ministry.
Whatever may be the historical connexion between them, it is as
important for us at least to realize the broad gulf that separates
them. They meet, it is true; both use the phrase "Kingdom of God,"
both preach repentance in view of the coming of the Kingdom; and we
are apt to assume they mean the same thing; but Jesus took some
pains to make it clear, though in the gentlest and most sympathetic
way, that they did not.

On the famous occasion, when John the Baptist sent two of his
disciples to Jesus with his striking message: "Art thou he that
should come? or look we for another?" (Luke 7:19-35; Matt. 11:1-19),
Jesus, when the messengers were gone, spoke to the people about the
Baptist. "What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed
shaken with the wind? A man clothed in soft raiment? A prophet? Yea,
I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. Among those that are
born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist,
but he that is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he." I am
not sure which is the right translation, whether it is "he that is
less, least, or little," and I do not propose to discuss it. The
judgement is remarkable enough in any case, and the words of Jesus,
as we have seen, have a close relation to real fact as he saw it.
Why does he speak in this way? Our answer to this question, if we
can answer it, will help us forward to the larger problem before us.
But, for this, we shall have to study John with some care.

There is a growing agreement among scholars that there is some
confusion in our data as to John the Baptist. There are gaps in the
record--for instance, how and why did the school of John survive as
it did (Acts 18:25, 19:1-7)? And again there are, in the judgement
of some, developments of the story. The Gospel, with varying degrees
of explicitness, and St. Paul by inference (Acts 19:4) tell us that
John pointed to "him which should come after him." Christians, at
any rate, after the Resurrection, had no doubt that this was Jesus.
Whether John was as definite as the narratives now represent him to
have been, has been doubted in view of his message to Jesus. But
that is not our present subject. We are concerned less with John as
precursor than as teacher and thinker.

Even if our data are defective, still enough is given us to let us
see a very striking and commanding figure. We have a picture of him,
his dress, his diet, his style of speech, his method of action--in
every way he is a signal and arresting man. The son of a priest, he
is an ascetic, who lives in the wilderness, dresses like a peasant,
and eats the meanest and most meagre of food--a man of the desert
and of solitude. And the whole life reacts on him and we can see
him, lean and worn, though still a young man, a keen, rather
excitable spirit--in every feature the marks of revolt against a
civilization which he views as an apostasy. Luke, using a phrase
from the Old Testament, says, "The word of God came upon John in the
wilderness" (Luke 3:2). Luke leans to Old Testament phrase, and here
is one that hits off the man to the very life. Jesus himself
confirms Luke's judgement (Mark 11:29-33). The Word of the Lord has
come on this ascetic figure, and he goes to the people with the
message; he draws their attention and they crowd out to see him. He
makes a great sensation. He is not like other men--for Jesus quotes
their remark that "he had a devil" (Luke 7:33)--a rough and ready
way of explaining unlikeness to the average man. When he sees his
congregation his words are not conciliatory; he addresses them as a
"generation of vipers" (Luke 3:7); and his text is the "wrath to

Jesus asks whether they went out to see a reed shaken by the wind,
or someone dressed like a courtier--the last things to which anyone
would compare John. There was nothing supple about him, as Herod
found, and Herodias (Mark 6:17-20); he was not shaken by the wind;
there was no trimming of his sails. The austerity of his life and
the austerity of his spirit go together, and he preached in a tone
and a language that scorched. He preached righteousness, social
righteousness, and he did it in a great way. He brought back the
minds of his people, like Amos and others, to God's conceptions and
away from their own. Crowds of people went out to hear him (Mark
1:5). And he made a deep impression on many whose lives needed
amendment (Matt. 21:26, 32; Luke 20:6).[27] We have the substance of
what he said in the third chapter of St. Luke; how he told the
tax-collectors to be honest and not make things worse than they need
be; the soldiers to do violence to no man and accuse no man falsely,
and to be content with their wages; and to ordinary people he
preached humanity: "He that hath two coats, let him impart to him
that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise." It may
be remarked of John, and it is true also of Jesus, that neither
attacked the absent nor inveighed against economic conditions, as
some modern preachers do with, let us say, capitalists and the
morality of other nations. Neither says a word against the Roman
Empire. Slavery is not condemned explicitly even by Jesus, though he
gave the dynamic that abolished it. The practical guidance that John
gave, he gave in response to men's inquiries.

Like an Old Testament prophet (cf. Amos 3:2), John tore to tatters
any plea that could be offered that his listeners were God's chosen
people, the children of Abraham. Does God want children of
Abraham?--John pointed to the stones on the ground, and said, if God
wanted, he could make children of Abraham out of them; a word and he
could have as many children of Abraham as he wished. It was
something else that God sought.

"John," writes the historian Josephus a generation later, "was a
good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue both in justice
toward one another and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism;
for so baptism would be acceptable to God if they made use of it,
not to excuse certain sins, but for the purification of the body,
provided that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by
righteousness."[28] This interpretation of John's baptism makes it
look very like the baptisms and other purificatory rites of the
heathen. The Gospels attribute to John a message, richer and more
powerful, but essentially the same; and the criticism of Jesus
confirms the account. The great note in his preaching is judgement;
the Kingdom of God is coming, and it begins with judgement. Again,
it is like Amos--"The axe is at the root of the tree," "His fan is
in His hand." And as men listened to the man and looked at him--his
intense belief in his message, backed up by a stern self-discipline,
a whole life inspired, infused by conviction--they believed this
message of the axe, the fan, and the fire. They asked and as we have
seen received his guidance on the conduct of life; they accepted his
baptism, and set about the amending of character (Matt. 21:32).

Jesus makes it quite clear that he held John to be an entirely
exceptional man, and that he had no doubt that John's teaching was
from God (Matt. 21:32; Luke 7:35, 20:4; and, of course, Luke
7:26-28). It was all in the line of the great prophets; and the
Fourth Gospel shows it us once more in the work of the Holy
Spirit--"when he is come, he will reprove (convict) the world of
sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement" (John 16:8). And yet,
as Jesus says, there is all the difference in the world between his
own Gospel and the teaching of the Baptist.

In Mark's narrative (2:18) a very significant episode is recorded.
John inculcated fasting, and his disciples fasted a great deal
("pykna", Luke 5:33); and once, Mark tells us, when they were
actually fasting, they asked Jesus why his disciples did not do the
same? Jesus' answer is a little cryptic at first sight. "Can the
children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with
them?" Who fasts at the wedding feast, in the hour of gladness? And
then he passes on to speak about the new patch on the old garment,
the new wine in the old wine skins; and it looks as if it were not
merely a criticism of John's disciples but of John himself. John,
indeed, brings home with terrific force and conviction that truth of
God which the prophets had preached before; but he leaves it there.
He emphasizes once more the old laws of God, the judgements of God,
but he brings no transforming power into men's lives. The old
characters, the old motives more or less, are to be patched by a new

"Repent, repent," John cries, "the judgement is coming." And men do
repent, and John baptises them as a symbol that God has forgiven
them. But how are they to go on? What is the power that is to carry
John's disciples through the rest of their lives? We are not in
possession of everything that John says, but there is no indication
that John had very much to say about any force or power that should
keep men on the plane of repentance. It is our experience that we
repent and fall again; what else was the experience of the people
whom John baptised? What was to keep them on the new level--not only
in the isolation of the desert, but in the ordinary routine of town
and village? In John's teaching there is not a word about that; and
this is a weakness of double import. For, as Jesus puts it, the new
patch on the old garment makes the rent worse; it does not leave it
merely as it was. If the "unclean spirit" regain its footing in a
man, it does not come alone--"the last state of that man is worse
than the first" (Luke 11:24-26). Jesus is very familiar with the
type that welcomes new ideas and new impulses in religion and yet
does nothing, grows tired or afraid, and relapses (Mark 4:17).

Again, in John's teaching, as far as we have it, there is a striking
absence of any clear word about any relation to God, beyond that of
debtor and creditor, judge and prisoner on trial, king and subject.
God may forgive and God will judge; but so far as our knowledge of
John's teaching goes, these are the only two points at which man and
God will touch each other; and these are not intimate relations.
There is no promise and no gladness in them; no "good news." John
taught prayer--all sorts of people teach prayer; but what sort of
prayer? It has been remarked of the Greek poet, Apollonius Rhodius,
that his heroes used prayers, but their prayers were like official
documents. Of what character were the prayers that John taught his
disciples? None of them survive; but there is perhaps a tacit
criticism of them in the request made to the New Teacher: "Teach us
to pray, as John taught his disciples" (Luke 11:1). One feels that
the men wanted something different from John's prayers. Great and
strenuous prayers they may have been, but in marked contrast to the
prayers of Jesus and his followers, because of the absence in John's
message of any strong note of the love and tenderness of God.

Finally, the very righteousness that John preaches with such fire
and energy is open to criticism. Far more serious than the
righteousness of the Pharisees, stronger in insight and more
generous in its scope, it fails in the same way; it is
self-directed. It aims at a man's own salvation, and it is to be
achieved by a man's own strength in self-discipline, with what
little help John's system of prayer and fasting may win for a man
from God. John fails precisely where his strength is greatest and
most conspicuous. His theme is sin; his emphasis all falls on sin;
but his psychology of sin is insufficient, it is not deep enough.
The simple, strenuous ascetic did not realize the seriousness of sin
after all--its deep roots, its haunting power, its insidious charm.
St. Paul saw far deeper into it "I am carnal, sold under sin. What I
hate that do I. The good that I would, I do not; but the evil which
I would not, that I do. I see a law in my members bringing me into
captivity to the law of sin. O wretched man that I am! Who shall
deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:14-24). Sin, in
John's thought, is contumacy or rebellion against the law of God; he
does not look at it in relation to the love of God--a view of it
which gives it another character altogether. Nor has John any great
conception of forgiveness--a man, he thinks, may win it by "fruits
worthy of repentance" (Luke 3:8). Here again Paul is the pioneer in
the universal Christian experience that fruits of repentance can
never buy God's forgiveness. That is God's gift. That forgiveness
may cost a man much--an amended life, the practices of prayer and
fasting and almsgiving--John conceives; but we are not led to think
that he thought of what it might cost God. John has no evangel, no
really good news, with gladness and singing in it (1 Peter 1:8).

When we return to the teaching of Jesus, we find that he draws a
clear and sharp line between right and wrong. He indicates that
right is right to the end of all creation, and wrong is wrong up to
the very Judgement Throne of God (Matt. 25). He views these things,
as the old phrase puts it, "sub specie aeternitatis", from the
outlook of eternity. Right and wrong do not meet at infinity. There
is no higher synthesis that can make them one and the same thing.
Everything with Jesus is Theocentric, and until God changes there
will be no very great change in right and wrong. Partly because he
uses the language of his day, partly because he thinks as a rule in
pictures, his language is apt to be misconstrued by moderns. But the
central ideas are clear enough. "How are you to escape the judgement
of Gehenna?" he asks the Pharisees (Matt. 23:33; the subjunctive
mood is worth study). It is not a threat, but a question. There
yawns the chasm; with your driving, how do you think you can avoid
disaster? He warns men of a doom where the worm dies not and the
fire is not quenched; a man will do well to sacrifice hand, foot or
eye, to save the rest of himself from that (Mark 9:43-48). But a
more striking picture, though commonly less noticed, he draws or
suggests in talk at the last supper. "Simon, Simon, behold Satan
asked for you to sift you as wheat, but I prayed for thee, that thy
faith fail not; and thou, when thou comest back, strengthen thy
brethren" (Luke 22:31, 32). The scene suggested is not unlike that
at the beginning of the Book of Job, or that in the Book of
Zechariah (chap. 3). There is the throne of God, and into that
Presence pushes Satan with a demand--the verb in the Greek is a
strong one, though not so strong as the Revised Version suggests.
Satan "made a push to have you." "But I prayed for thee."

To any reader who has any feeling or imagination, what do these
short sentences mean? What can they mean, from the lips of a thinker
so clear and so serious, and a friend so tender? What but
unspeakable peril? The language has for us a certain strangeness;
but it shows plainly enough that, to Jesus' mind, the disciples, and
Peter in particular, stood in danger, a danger so urgent that it
called for the Saviour's prayer. So much it meant to him, and he
himself tells Peter what he had realized, what he had done, in
language that could not be mistaken or forgotten. To the nature of
the danger that sin involves, we shall return. Meanwhile we may
consider what Jesus means by sin before we discuss its consequences.

"The Son of Man," says Jesus, in a sentence that is famous but still
insufficiently studied, "is come to seek and to save that which is
lost" (Luke 19:10). Our rule has been to endeavour to give to the
terms of Jesus the connotation he meant them to carry. The scholar
will linger over the "Son of Man"--a difficult phrase, with a
literary and linguistic history that is very complicated. For the
present purpose the significant words are at the other end of the
sentence. What does Jesus mean by "lost"? It is a strong word, the
value of which we have in some degree lost through familiarity. And
whom would he describe as "lost"? We have once more to recall his
criticism of Peter--that Peter "thought like a man and not like God"
(Mark 8:33)--and to be on our guard lest we think too quickly and
too slightly. We may remark, too, that for Jesus sin is not, as for
Paul and theologians in general, primarily an intellectual problem.
He does not use the abstraction Sin as Paul does. But the clear,
steady gaze turned on men and women misses little.

There are four outstanding classes, whom he warns of the danger of
hell in one form or other.

To begin, there is the famous description of the Last Judgement
(Matt. 25:31-46)--a description in itself not altogether new. Plenty
of writers and thinkers had described the scene, and the broad
outlines of the picture were naturally common property; yet it is to
these more or less conventional traits that attention has often been
too exclusively devoted. Jesus, however, altered the whole character
of the Judgement Day scene by his account of the principles on which
the Judge decides the cases brought before him. On the right hand of
the Judge are--not the Jews confronting the Gentiles on the
left--nor exactly the well-conducted and well-balanced people who
get there in Greek allegories--but a group of men and women who
realize where they are with a gasp of surprise. How has it come
about? The Judge tells them: "I was an hungered and ye gave me
meat," and the rest of the familiar words. But this does not quite
settle the question. Embarrassment rises on their faces--is it a
mistake? One of them speaks for the rest: "Lord, when saw we thee an
hungered and fed thee?" They do not remember it. There is something
characteristic there of the whole school of Jesus; these people are
"children of fact," honest as their Master, and they will not accept
heaven in virtue of a possible mistake. And it appears from the
Judge's answer that such instinctive deeds go further than men
think, even if they are forgotten. Wordsworth speaks of the "little
nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love" that are "the
best portion of a good man's life."[29] The acts of kindness were
forgotten just because they were instinctive, but, Jesus emphasizes
the point, they are decisive; they come, as another of his telling
phrases suggests, from "the overflow of the heart," and they reveal
it. With the people on the left hand it was the other way. They were
fairly well in possession of their good records, but they had missed
the decisive fact--they were instinctively hard. Such people Jesus
warns. So familiar are his words that there is a danger of our
limiting them to their first obvious meaning. Eighty years ago
Thomas Carlyle looked out on the England he knew, and remarked that
it was strange that the great battle of civilized man should be
still the battle of the savage against famine, and with that he
observed that the people were "needier than ever of inward
sustenance." Is there a warning in this picture of the people on the
left hand that applies to deeper things than physical hunger? A
warning to those who do not heed another's need of "inward
sustenance," of spiritual life, of God? It looks likely. Otherwise
there is a risk of our declining upon a "Social Righteousness" that
falls a long way short of John the Baptist's, and does less for any
soul, our own or another's.

The second class warned by Jesus consists of several groups dealt
with in the Sermon on the Mount--people whose sin is not murder or
adultery, but merely anger and the unclean thought--not the people
who actually give themselves away, like the publicans and
harlots--but those who would not be sorry to have that ring of Gyges
which Plato described, who would like to do certain things if they
could, who at all events are not unwilling to picture what they
would wish to do, if it were available, and meanwhile enjoy the
thought (Matt. 5:21, 22, 27-29). Here St. Paul can supply commentary
with his suggestion that one form of God's condemnation is where he
gives up a man to his own reprobate mind (Romans 1:28--the whole
passage is worth study in the Greek). The mind, in Paul's phrases,
becomes darkened (Rom. 1:21), stained (Titus 1:15), and cauterized
(1 Tim. 4:2), invalidated for the discharge of its proper functions,
as a burnt hand loses the sense of touch, or a stained glass gives
the man a blue or red world instead of the real one. Blindness and
mutilation are better, Jesus said, than the eye of lust (Matt.
5:28). How different from the moralists, for whom sin lies in
action, and all actions are physical! The idle word is to condemn a
man, not because it is idle, but because, being unstudied, it speaks
of his heart and reveals, unconsciously but plainly, what he is in
reality (Matt. 12:36). Thus it is that what comes out of the mouth
defiles a man (Matt. 15:18)--with the curious suggestion, whether
intended or not, that the formulation of a floating thought gives it
new power to injure or to help. That is true; impression loose, as
it were, in the mind, mere thought--stuff, is one thing; formulated,
brought to phrase and form, it takes on new life and force; and when
it is evil, it does defile, and in a permanent way. Marcus Aurelius
has a very similar warning (v. 16)--"Whatever the colour of the
thoughts often before thy mind, that colour will thy mind take. For
the mind is dyed (or stained) by its thoughts." "Phantazesthai" and
"phantasiai" are the words--and they suggest something between
thoughts and imaginations--mental pictures would be very near it.

The third group whom Jesus warned, the most notorious of all, was
the Pharisee class. They played at religion--tithed mint and anise
and cumin, and forgot judgement and mercy and faith (Matt. 23:23).
Jesus said that the Pharisee was never quite sure whether the
creature he was looking at was a camel or a mosquito--he got them
mixed (Matt. 23:24). Once we realize what this tremendous irony
means, we are better able to grasp his thought. The Pharisee was
living in a world that was not the real one--it was a highly
artificial one, picturesque and charming no doubt, but dangerous.
For, after all, we do live in the real world--there is only one
world, however many we may invent; and to live in any other is
danger. Blindness, that is partial and uneven, lands a man in peril
whenever he tries to come downstairs or to cross the street--he
steps on the doorstep that is not there and misses the real one. He
is involved in false appearances at every turn. And so it is in the
moral world--there is one real, however many unreals there are, and
to trust to the unreal is to come to grief on the real. "The
beginning of a man's doom," wrote Carlyle, "is that vision be
withdrawn from him." "Thou blind Pharisee!" (Matt. 23:26). The cup
is clean enough without; it is septic and poisonous within--and from
which side of it do you drink, outside or inside? (Matt. 23:25). As
we study the teaching of Jesus here, we see anew the profundity of
the saying attributed to him in the Fourth Gospel, "The truth shall
make you free" (John 8:32). The man with astigmatism, or myopia, or
whatever else it is, must get the glasses that will show him the
real world, and he is safe, and free to go and come as he pleases.
See the real in the moral sphere, and the first great peril is gone.
Nothing need be said at this point of the Pharisee who used
righteousness and long prayers as a screen for villainy. Probably
his doom was that in the end he came to think his righteousness and
his prayers real, and to reckon them as credit with a God, who did
not see through them any more than he did himself. It is a mistake
to over-emphasize here the devouring of widow' houses by the
Pharisee (Matt. 23:14), for it was no peculiar weakness of his;
publicans and unjust judges did the same. Only the publican and the
unjust judge told themselves no lies about it. The Pharisee
lied--lying to oneself or lying to another, which is the worse? The
more dangerous probably is lying to oneself, though the two
practices generally will go together in the long run. The worst
forms of lying, then, are lying to oneself and lying about God; and
the Pharisee combined them, and told himself that, once God's proper
dues of prayer and tithe were paid, his treatment of the widow and
her house was correct. Hence, says Jesus, he receives "greater
damnation" (A.V.)--or judgement on a higher scale ("perissoteron

The Pharisees were men who believed in God--only that with his
world, they re-created him (as we are all apt to do for want of
vision or by choice); but what is atheism, what can it be, but
indifference to God's facts and to God's nature? If religion is
union with God, in the phrase we borrow so slightly from the
mystics, how can a man be in union with God, when the god he sees is
not there, is a figment of his own mind, something different
altogether from God? Or, if we use the phrase of the Old Testament.
prophet and of Jesus himself, if religion is vision of God, what is
our religion, if after all we are not seeing God at all, but
something else--a dummy god, like that of the Pharisees, some
trifling martinet who can be humbugged--or, to come to ourselves, a
majestic bundle of abstract nouns loosely tied up in impersonality?
For all such Jesus has a caution. Indifference to God's facts leads
to one end only. We admit it ourselves. There are those who scold
Bunyan for sending Ignorance to hell, but we omit to ask where else
could Ignorance go, whether Bunyan sent him or not. Ignorance, as to
germs or precipices or what not, leads to destruction "in pari
materia"; in the moral sphere can it be otherwise? This serves in
some measure to explain why Jesus is so tender to gross and flagrant
sinners, a fact which some have noted with surprise. Surely it is
because publican and harlot have fewer illusions; they were left
little chance of imagining their lives to be right before God. What
Jesus thought of their hardness and impurity we have seen already,
but heedless as they were of God's requirements of them, they were
not guilty of the intricate atheism of the Pharisees. Further,
whether it was in his mind or not, it is also true that the frankly
gross temptations do bring a man face to face with his own need of
God, as the subtler do not; and so far they make for reality.

The fourth group are those who cannot make up their minds. "No man,
having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the
Kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). The word is an interesting one
("euthetos"), it means "handy" or "easy to place." (The word is used
of the salt not "fit" for land or dunghill (Luke 14:35), and the
negative of the inconvenient harbour (Acts 27:12).) This man is not
adapted for the Kingdom of God; he is not easy to place there. Like
the man who saved his talent but did not use it (Matt. 25:24), he is
not exactly bad; but he is "no good," as we say. Jesus conceives of
the Kingdom of God as dynamic, not static; state or place, condition
or relation, it implies work, as God himself implies work. He holds
that truth is not a curiosity for the cabinet but a tool in the
hand; that God's earnest world is no place for nondescript, and that
there is only one region left to which they can drift. What part or
place can there be in the Kingdom of Heaven--in a kingdom won on
Calvary--for people who cannot be relied on, who cannot decide
whether to plough or not to plough, nor, when they have made up
their mind, stick to it? Jesus cannot see. (What a revelation of the
force and power of his own character!)

These, then, are the four classes whom Jesus warns, and it is clear
from the consideration of them that his view of sin is very
different from those current in that day. Men set sin down as an
external thing that drifted on to one like a floating burr--or like
paint, perhaps--it could be picked off or burnt off. It was the
eating of pork or hare--something technical or accidental; or it
was, many thought, the work of a demon from without, who could be
driven out to whence he came. Love and drunkenness illustrated the
thing for them--a change of personality induced by an exterior force
or object, as if the human spirit were a glass or a cup into which
anything might be poured, and from which it could be emptied and the
vessel itself remain unaffected. Jesus has a deeper view of sin, a
stronger psychology, than these, nor does he, like some quick
thinkers of to-day, put sin down to a man's environment, as if
certain surroundings inevitably meant sin. Jesus is quite definite
that sin is nothing accidental--it is involved in a man's own
nature, in his choice, it comes from the heart, and it speaks of a
heart that is wrong. When we survey the four groups, it comes to one
central question at last: Has a man been in earnest with himself
about God's dealings with him? Hardness and lust make a man play the
fool with human souls whom God loves and cares for--a declaration of
war on God himself. Wilful self-deception about God needs no
comment; to shilly-shally and let decision slide, where God is
concerned, is atheism too. In a word, what is a man's fundamental
attitude to God and God's facts? That is Jesus' question. Sin is
tracked home to the innermost and most essential part of the
man--his will. It is no outward thing, it is inward. It is not that
evil befalls us, but that we are evil. In the words of Edward Caird,
"the passion that misleads us is a manifestation of the same ego,
the same self-conscious reason which is misled by it," and thus, as
Burns puts it, "it is the very 'light from heaven' that leads us
astray." The man uses his highest God-given faculties, and uses them
against God.

But this is not all. Many people will agree with the estimate of
Jesus, when they understand it, in regard to most of these classes;
perhaps they would urge that in the main it is substantially the
same teaching as John the Baptist's, though it implies, as we shall
see, a more difficult problem in getting rid of sin. Jesus goes
further. He holds up to men standards of conduct which transcend
anything yet put before mankind. "Be ye therefore perfect," he says,
"even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48).
When we recall what Jesus teaches of God, when we begin to try to
give to "God" the content he intended, we realize with amazement
what he is saying. He is holding up to men for their ideal of
conduct the standard of God's holiness, of God's love and
tenderness. Everything that Jesus tells us of God--all that he has
to say of the wonderful and incredible love of God and of God's
activity on behalf of his children--he now incorporates in the ideal
of conduct to which men are called. John's conceptions of
righteousness grow beggarly. Here is a royal magnificence of active
love, of energetic sympathy, tenderness, and self-giving, asked of
us, who find it hard enough to keep the simplest commandments from
our youth up (Mark 10:20). We are to love our enemies, to win them,
to make peace, to be pure--and all on the scale of God. And that
this may not seem mere talk in the air, there is the character and
personality of Jesus, embodying all he asks of us--bringing out new
wonders of God's goodness, the ugliness and evil of sin, and the
positive and redemptive beauty of righteousness.

The problem of sin and forgiveness becomes more difficult, as we
think of the positive ideals which we have not begun to try to
reach. Let us sum up what it involves.

Jesus brings out the utter bankruptcy to which sin reduces men. They
become "full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matt. 23:28), so
depraved that they are like bad trees, unproductive of any but bad
fruit (rotten, in the Greek, Matt. 7:17); the very light in them is
darkness, and how great darkness (Matt. 6:23). They are cut off from
the real world, as we saw, and lose the faculties they have
abused--the talent is taken away (Matt. 25:28); "from him that hath
not, shall be taken away even that which he hath" (Matt. 25:29). The
nature is changed as memory is changed, and the "overflow of the
heart" in speech and act bears witness to it. The faculty of choice
is weakened; the interval in which inhibition--to use our modern
term--is possible, grows shorter. The instincts are perverted and
the whole being is disorganized. In a word, all that Jesus connotes
by "the Kingdom of God" is "taken from them" (Matt. 21:43), and
nothing left but "outer darkness" (Matt. 22:13). The vision of God
is not for the impure (Matt. 5:8). Meanwhile sin is not a sterile
thing, it is a leaven (Matt. 16:6). If our modern medical language
may be applied--and Jesus used the analogy of medicine in this very
case (Mark 2:17)--sin is septic. In the first place, all sin is
anti-social--an invasion "ipso facto" of the rights of others. The
man who sins either takes away what is another's--a man's goods, a
widow's house, or a woman's purity--or he fails to give to others
what is their due, be it, in the obvious field, the aid the Good
Samaritan rendered to the wounded and robbed man by the roadside
(Luke 10:33), or, in the higher sphere, truth, sympathy, help in the
maintenance of principle, or in the achievement of progress and
development (cf. Matt. 25:43). Sin is the repudiation of the
concepts of law, duty, and service, in a word, of the love on God's
scale which God calls men to exercise. And its fruits are, above
all, its dissemination. Injustice, a historian has said, always
repays itself with frightful compound interest. If a man starts to
debauch society, his example is quickly followed; and it comes to

What, we asked, did Jesus mean by "lost"? This, above all, that sin
cuts a man adrift from God. In the parable of the Prodigal Son this
is brought out (Luke 15:11-32). There the youth took from his father
all he could get, and then deliberately turned his back on him
forever; he went into a far country, out of his reach, outside his
influence, and beyond the range of his ideas, and he devoted his
father's gifts to precisely what would sadden and trouble his father
most. And then came bankruptcy, final and hopeless. There was no
father available in the far country; he had to live without him, and
it came to a life that was not even human--a life of solitude, a
life of beasts. Jesus draws it, as he does most things, in picture
form, using parable. Paul puts the same in directer language; sin
reduces men to a position where they are "alienated from the life of
God" (Eph. 4:18; Col. 1:21), "without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12),
"enemies of God" (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21); but he does not say more
than Jesus implies. Paul's final expression, "God gave them up"
(thrice in Rom. 1:24, 26, 28), answers to the Judge's word, in
Jesus' picture, "Depart from me" (Matt. 25:41).

O Wedding-guest, this soul hath been
Alone on a wide, wide sea:
So lonely 'twas, that God himself
Scarce seemed there to be.

So Jesus handles the problem of sin, but that is only half the
story, for there remains the problem of Redemption. The treatment of
sin is far profounder and truer than John the Baptist or any other
teacher has achieved; and it implies that Jesus will handle
Redemption in a way no less profound and effective. If he does not,
then he had better not have preached a gospel. If, in dealing with
sin, he touches reality at every point, we may expect him in the
matter of Redemption to reach the very centre of life.[30] How else
can he, with his serious view of sin, say to a man, "Thy sins are
forgiven thee"? (Mark 2:5). But it is quite clear from our records
that, while Jesus laid bare in this relentless way the ugliness and
hopelessness of sin, he did not despair: his tone is always one of
hope and confidence. The strong man armed may find a stronger man
come upon him and take from him the panoply in which he trusted
(Luke 11:21, 22). There is a great gulf that cannot be crossed (Luke
16:26)--yes, but if the experience of Christendom tells us anything,
it tells us that Jesus crossed it himself, and did the impossible.
"The great matter is that Jesus believed God was willing to take the
human soul, and make it new and young and clean again." But the
human soul did not believe it, till Jesus convinced it, and won it,
by action of his own. "The Son of Man came to seek and to save that
which was lost"; and he did not come in vain.



By what they said, I perceived that he had been a great warrior, and
had fought with and slain him that had the power of death (Hebrews
2:14), but not without great danger to himself, which made me love
him the more--"Pilgrims Progress", Part I

The subject before us is one of the greatest difficulty. Why Jesus
chose the cross has exercised the thought of the Christian world
ever since he did so. He told his disciples beforehand of what lay
before him, of what he was choosing, but it was long before they
realized that he meant any such thing. The cross was to them a
strange idea, and for a long time they did not seriously face the
matter. Once the cross was an accomplished fact, Christians could
not, and did not wish to, avoid thinking out what had meant so much
to their Master; but it has mostly been with a sense of facing a
mystery that in some measure eluded them, with a feeling that there
is more beyond, something always to be attained hereafter.

A very significant passage in St. Mark (10:32) gives us a glimpse of
a moment on Jesus' last journey to Jerusalem. It is a sentence which
one could hardly imagine being included in the Gospel, if it did not
represent some actual memory, and a memory of significance. It runs
something like this: "And they were in the way, going up to
Jerusalem, and Jesus was moving on before them; and they began to
wonder; and as they followed they began to be afraid." He is moving
to Jerusalem with a purpose. They do not understand it. He is
wrapped in thought; and, as happens when a man's mind is working
strongly, his pace quickens, and they find themselves at a distance
behind him. And then something comes over them--a sense that there
is something in the situation which they do not understand, a
strangeness in the mind. They realize, in fact, that they are not as
near Jesus as they had supposed. And, as they follow, the wonder
deepens into fear.

Anyone who will really try to grapple with this problem of the cross
will find very soon the same thing. The first thing that we need to
learn, if our criticism of Jesus is to be sound, is that we are not
at all so near him as we have imagined. He eludes us, goes far out
beyond what we grasp or conceive; and I think the education of the
Christian man or woman begins anew, when we realize how little we
know about Jesus. The discovery of our ignorance is the beginning of
knowledge. Plato long ago said that wonder is the mother of
philosophy, and he was right. John Donne, the English poet, went
farther, and said: "All divinity is love or wonder." When a man then
begins to wonder about Jesus Christ in earnest, Jesus comes to be
for him a new figure. Historical criticism has done this for us; it
has brought us to such a point that the story of these earliest
disciples repeats itself more closely in the experience of their
followers of these days than in any century since the first. We
begin along with them on the friendly, critical, human plane, and
with them we follow him into experiences and realizations that we
never expected. It may be summed up in the familiar words of the
English hymn,

Oh happy band of pilgrims,
If onward ye will tread
With Jesus as your fellow,
To Jesus as your head.

These men begin with him, more or less on a footing of equality; or,
at least, the inequality is very lightly marked. Afterwards it is
emphasized; and they realize it with wonder and with fear, and at
last with joy and gratitude.

We may begin by trying steadily to bring our minds to some keener
sense of what it was that he chose. To say, in the familiar words,
that he chose the cross, may through the very familiarity of the
language lead us away from what we have to discover. We have, as we
agreed, to ask ourselves what was his experience. What, then, did
his choice involve? It meant, of course, physical pain. There are
natures to whom this is of little account, but the sensitive and
sentient type, as we often observe, dreads pain. He, with open eyes,
chose physical pain, heightened to torture, not escaping any of the
suffering which anticipation gives--that physical horror of death,
that instinctive fear of annihilation, which nature suggests of
itself. He took the course of action that would most severely test
his disciples; one at least revolted, and we have to ask what it
meant to Jesus to live with Judas, to watch his face, to recognize
his influence in the little group--yes, and to try to win him again
and to be repelled. "He learnt by the things that he suffered" that
Judas would betray him; but the hour and place and method were not
so evident, and when they were at last revealed--what did it mean to
be kissed by Judas? Do we feel what he felt in the so-called
trials--or was he dull and numbed by the catastrophe? How did he
bear the beating of triumphant hatred upon a forsaken spirit? How
did the horrible cry, "Crucify him! crucify him!" break on his
ears--on his mind? When "the Lord turned and looked upon Peter"
(Luke 22:61), what did it mean? How did he know that Peter was
there, and what led him to turn at that moment? Was there in the
Passion no element of uneasiness again about the eleven on whom he
had concentrated his hopes and his influence--the eleven of whom it
is recorded, that "they all forsook him, and fled" (Mark 14:50)? No
hint of dread that his work might indeed be undone? What pain must
that have involved? What is the value of the Agony in the Garden, of
the cry, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani" (Mark 15:34)? When we have
answered, each for himself, these questions, and others like them
that will suggest themselves--answered them by the most earnest
efforts of which our natures are capable--and remembered at the end
how far our natures fall short of his, and told ourselves that our
answers are insufficient--then let us recall, once more, that he
chose all this.

He chose the cross and all that it meant. Our next step should be to
study anew his own references to what he intends by it, to what he
expects to be its results and its outcome. First of all, then, he
clearly means that the Kingdom of Heaven is something different from
anything that man has yet seen. The Kingdom of Heaven is, I
understand, a Hebrew way of saying the Kingdom of God--very much as
men to-day speak of Providence, to avoid undue familiarity with the
term God, so the Jews would say Heaven. There were many who used the
phrase in one or other form; but it is always bad criticism to give
to the words of genius the value or the connotation they would have
in the lips of ordinary people. To a great mind words are charged
with a fullness of meaning that little people do not reach. The
attempt has been made to recapture more of his thoughts by learning
the value given to some of the terms he uses as they appear in the
literature of the day, and of course it has been helpful. But we
have to remember always that the words as used by him come with a
new volume of significance derived from his whole personality.
Everything turns on the connotation which he gives to the term
God--that is central and pivotal. What this new Kingdom of God is,
or will be, he does not attempt fully to explain or analyse. In the
parables, the treasure-finder and the pearl merchant achieve a great
enrichment of life; so much they know at once; but what do they do
with it? How do they look at it? What does it mean to them? He does
not tell us. We only see that they are moving on a new plane, seeing
life from a new angle, living in a fuller sense. What the new life
means in its fullness, we know only when we gain the deeper
knowledge of God.

He suggests that this new knowledge comes to a man from God
himself--flesh and blood do not reveal it (Matt. 16:17). "Unto you
it is given," he says on another occasion, "to know the mystery of
the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mark 4:11), and he adds that there are those
who see and do not see; they are outside it; they have not the
alphabet, we might say, that will open the book (cf. Rev. 5:3). He
makes it clear at every point in the story of the Kingdom of God
that there is more beyond; and he means it. It is to be a new
beginning, an initiation, leading on to what we shall see but do not
yet guess, though he gives us hints. We shall not easily fathom the
depth of his idea of the new life, but along with it we have to
study the width and boldness of his purpose. This new life is not
for a few--for "the elect," in our careless phrase. He looks to a
universal scope for what he is doing. It will reach far outside the
bounds of Judaism. "They shall come from the east and from the west,
and from the north and from the south, and shall sit down in the
Kingdom of God" (Luke 13:29). "Wheresoever this gospel shall be
preached throughout the whole world," he says (Mark 14:9). "My words
shall not pass away" (Luke 21:33). All time and all existence come
under his survey and are included in his plan. The range is
enormous. And this was a Galilean peasant! As we gradually realize
what he has in mind, must we not feel that we have not grasped
anything like the full grandeur of his thought?

He makes it plain, in the second place, that it will be a matter for
followers, for workers, for men who will watch and wait and
dare--men with the same abandonment as himself. He calls for men to
come after him, to come behind him (Mark 1:17, 10:21; Luke 9:59). He
emphasizes that they must think out the terms on which he enlists
them. He does not disguise the drawbacks of his service. He calls
his followers, and a very personal and individual call it is. He
calls a man from the lake shore, from the nets, from the custom

In the third place, he clearly announces an intention to achieve
something in itself of import by his death. There are those who
would have us believe that his mind was obsessed with the fixed idea
of his own speedy return on the clouds, and that he hurried on to
death to precipitate this and the new age it was to bring.
References to such a coming are indeed found in the Gospels as we
have them, but we are bound to ask whence they come, and to inquire
how far they represent exactly what he said; and then, if he is
correctly reported, to make sure that we know exactly what he means.
Those who hold this view fail to relate the texts they emphasize
with others of a deeper significance, and they ignore the grandeur
and penetration and depth of the man whom they make out such a
dreamer. He never suggests himself that his death is to force the
hand of God.

He himself is to be the doer and achiever of something. We have been
apt to think of him as a great teacher, a teacher of charm and
insight, or as the great example of idealism, "who saw life steadily
and saw it whole." He lived, some hold, the rounded and well-poised
life, the rhythmic life. No, that was Sophocles. He is greater. Here
is one who penetrates far deeper into things. His treatment of the
psychology of sin itself shows how much more than an example was
needed. Here, as in the other chapters, but here above all we have
to remember the clearness of his insight, his swiftness of
penetration, his instinct for fact and reality. He means to do, to
achieve, something. It is no martyr's death that he incurs. His
death is a step to a purpose. "I have a baptism to be baptised
with," he says (Luke 12:50). "The Son of Man," he said, "is come to
seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10).

In discussing in the previous chapter what he meant by the term
"lost," our conclusion was that for Jesus sin was far more awful,
far more serious, than we commonly realize. We saw also that so
profound and true a psychology of sin must imply a view of
redemption at least as profound, a promise of a force more than
equal to the power of sin--that "violence of habit" of which St.
Augustine speaks. If the Son of Man is to save the lost, and if the
lost are in danger so real, it follows that he must think of a
thoroughly effective salvation, and that its achievement will be no
light or easy task. "To give one's life as a ransom for many," says
a modern teacher, "is of no avail, if the ransom is insufficient."
What, then, and how much, does he mean by "to save," and how does he
propose to do it? When the soul of man or woman has gone wrong in
any of the ways discussed by Jesus--in hardness or anger, in
impurity, in the refusal to treat God and his facts seriously--when
the consequences that Jesus recognized have followed--what can be
done to bring that soul back into effective relation with the God
whom it has discarded and abandoned? That is the problem that Jesus
had to face, and most of us have not thought enough about it.

First of all, how far does Jesus understand salvation to take a man?
The ancient creed of the Church includes the article of belief in
"the forgiveness of sins." There are those who lightly assume that
this means, chiefly or solely, the remission of punishment for evil
acts. This raises problems enough of itself. The whole doctrine of
"Karma", vital to Buddhism and Hinduism, is, if I understand it
aright, a strong and clear warning to us that the remission of
punishment is no easy matter. Not only Eastern thinkers, but Western
also, insist that there is no avoidance of the consequences of
action. Luther himself, using a phrase half borrowed from a Latin
poet, says that forgiveness is "a knot worthy of a God's
aid"--"nodus Deo vindice dignus".[31] But in any case escape from
the consequences of sin, when once we look on sin with the eyes of
Jesus, is of relatively small importance. There are two aspects of
the matter far more significant.

We have seen how Jesus regards sin as at once the cause and
consequence of a degeneration of the moral nature, and as a
repudiation of God. Two questions arise: Is it possible to recover
lost moral quality and faculty? Is it possible for those
incapacitated by sin to regain, or to enjoy, relation with God?

When we think, with Jesus, of sin first and foremost in connexion
with God, and take the trouble to try to give his meaning to his
words, forgiveness takes on a new meaning. We have to "think like
God," he says (Mark 8:33); and perhaps God is in his thoughts
neither so legal nor so biological as we are; perhaps he does not
think first of edicts or of biological and psychological laws. God,
according to Jesus, thinks first of his child, though of course not
oblivious of his own commands and laws. Forgiveness, Jesus teaches
or suggests, is primarily a question between Father and son, and he
tries to lead us to believe how ready the Father is to settle that
question. Once it is settled, we find, in fact, Father and son
setting to work to mend the past. The evil seed has been sown and
the sad crop must be reaped, the man who sowed it has to reap
it--that much we all see. But Jesus hints to us that God himself
loves to come in and help his reconciled son with the reaping; many
hands make light work, especially when they are such hands. And even
when the crop is evil in the lives of others, the most horrible
outcome of sin, God is still in the field. The prodigal, when he
returns, is met with a welcome, and is gradually put in possession
of what he has lost--the robe, the shoes, the ring; and it all comes
from his being at one with his Father again (Luke 15:22ff.). The Son
of Man, historically, has again and again found the lost--the lost
gifts, the lost faculties, the lost charms and graces--and given
them back to the man whom he had also found and brought home to God.

Let us once more try to get our thoughts Theocentric as Jesus' are,
and our problems become simpler, or at least fewer. God's generosity
in forgiveness, God's love, he emphasizes again and again. Will a
man take Jesus at his word, and commit himself to God? That is the
question. Once he will venture on this step, what pictures Jesus
draws us of what happens! The son is home again; the bankruptcy, the
hideous solitude, the life among animals, bestial, dirty and empty,
and haunted with memories--all those things are past, when once the
Father's arms are round his neck, and his kiss on his cheek. He is
no more "alienated from the life of God" (Eph. 4:18; Col. 1:21),
"without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12), an "enemy of God" (Rom.
5:10); he was lost and is found, and the Father himself, Jesus says,
cries: "Let us be merry" ("Euphranthomen"). If we hesitate about it,
Jesus calls us once more to "think like God," and tells us other
stories, with incredible joy in them--"joy in the presence of the
angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." We must go back to
his central conception of God, if we are to realize what he means by
salvation. St. Augustine (Conf., viii. 3) brings out the value of
these parables, by reminding us how much more we care for a thing
that has been ours, when we have lost it and found it again. The
shepherd has a new link with his sheep lost and found again, a new
story of it, a shared experience; it is more his than ever. And
Jesus implies that when a man is saved, he is God's again, and more
God's own than ever before; and God is glad at heart. As for the
man; a new power comes into his heart, and a new joy; and with God's
help, in a new spirit of sunshine, he sets about mending the past in
a new spirit and with a new motive--for love's sake now. If the
fruit of the past is to be seen, as it constantly is, in the lives
of others, he throws himself with the more energy into God's work,
and when the Good Shepherd goes seeking the lost, he goes with him.
Christian history bears witness, in every year of it, to what
salvation means, in Jesus' sense. Punishment, consequences, crippled
resources--no, he does not ask to escape them now; all as God
pleases; these are not the things that matter. Life is all to be
boundless love and gratitude and trust; and by and by the new man
wakes up to find sin taken away, its consequences undone, the lost
faculties restored, and life a fuller and richer thing than ever it
was before.

Somehow so, if we read the Gospels aright, does Jesus conceive of
Salvation. To achieve this for men is his purpose; and in order to
do it, as we said before, his first step is to induce men to
re-think God. Something must be done to touch the heart and to move
the will of men, effectively; and he must do it.

With this purpose in his mind--let us weigh our words here, and
reflect again upon the clearness of his insight into life and
character, into moral laws, the laws of human thought and feeling,
upon his profound intelligence and grasp of what moves and is real,
his knowledge (a strong word to use, but we may use it) of God--with
this purpose in his mind, thought out and understood, he
deliberately and quietly goes to Jerusalem. He "steadfastly set his
face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). "I must walk," he said,
"to-day and to-morrow and the day following; for it cannot be that a
prophet perish out of Jerusalem" (Luke 13:33). To Jerusalem he goes.

We may admit that with his view of the psychology of sin, he must
have a serious view of redemption. But why should that involve the
cross? That is our problem. But while we try to solve it, we must
also remember that behind a great choice there are always more
reasons than we can analyse. A man makes one of the great choices in
life. What has influenced him? Ten to one, if you ask him, he does
not know. Nothing else, he will say, seemed feasible; the thing was
borne in on me, it came to me: reasons? He cannot tabulate reasons;
the thing, he says, was so clear that I was a long way past reasons.
And yet he was right; he had reasons enough. What parent ever
analysed reasons for loving his children, or would tabulate them for
you? Jesus does not explain his reasons. We find, I think, that we
are apt to have far more reasons for doing what we know is wrong,
than we have for doing what we know is right. We do not want reasons
for doing what is right; we know it is right, and there is an end of
it. Once again, Jesus, with his clear eye for the real, sees what he
must do. The salvation of the lost means the cross for himself. But
why? we ask again. We must look a little closer if we are to
understand him. We shall not easily understand him in all his
thoughts, but part of our education comes from the endeavour to
follow him here, to "be with him," in the phrase with which we

First of all we may put his love of men. He never lost the
individual in the mass, never lost sight of the human being who
needed God. The teacher who put the law of kindness in the great
phrase, "Go with him twain" (Matt. 5:41), was not likely to limit
himself in meeting men's needs. He was bound to do more than we
should expect, when he saw people whom he could help; and it is that
spirit of abounding generosity that shows a man what to do (Luke
6:38). Everywhere, every day, he met the call that quickened
thought and shaped purpose.

He walked down a street; and the scene of misery or of sin came upon
him with pressure; he could not pass by, as we do, and fail to note
what we do not wish to think of. He knows a pressure upon his spirit
for the man, the child, the woman--for the one who sins, the one who
suffers, the other who dies. They must be got in touch with God. He
sits with his disciples at a meal--the men whom he loved--he watches
them, he listens to them. Peter, James, John, one after the other,
becomes a call to him. They need redemption; they need far more than
they dream; they need God. That pressure is there night and day--it
becomes intercession, and that grows into inspiration. Our prayers
suffer, some one has said, for our want of our identification with
the world's sin and misery. He was identified with the world's sin
and misery, and they followed him into his prayer. It becomes with
him an imperative necessity to effect man's reconciliation with God.
All his experience of man, his love of man, call him that way.

The second great momentum comes from the love of God, and his faith
in God. Here, again, we must emphasize for ourselves his criticism
of Peter: "You think like a man and not like God" (Mark 8:33). We do
not see God, as Jesus did. He must make plain to men, as it never
was made plain before, the love of God. He must secure that it is
for every man the greatest reality in the world, the one great
flaming fact that burns itself living into every man's
consciousness. He sees that for this God calls him to the cross, so
much so that when he prays in the garden that the cup may pass, his
thoughts range back to "Thy will" (Matt. 26:42). It is God's Will.
Even if he does not himself see all involved, still God knows the
reason; God will manage; God wishes it. "Have faith in God," he used
to say (Mark 11:22). This faith which he has in God is one of the
things that take him to the cross.

In the third place, we must not forget his sense of his own peculiar
relation to God. If it is safe to rely on St. Mark's chronological
date here, he does not speak of this until Peter has called him the
Messiah. He accepts the title (Mark 8:29). He also uses the
description, Son of Man, with its suggestions from the past. He
forgives sins. He speaks throughout the Gospels as one apart, as one
distinct from us, closely as he is identified with us--and all this
from a son of fact, who is not insane, who is not a quack, whose
eyes are wide open for the real; whose instinct for the ultimate
truth is so keen; who lives face to face with God. What does it
mean? This, for one thing, that most of us have not given attention
enough to this matter. I have confined myself in these chapters to
the Synoptic Gospels, with only two or three references to the
Fourth Gospel, and on the evidence of the Synoptic Gospels, taken by
themselves, it is clear that he means a great deal more than we have
cared to examine. He is the great interpreter of God, and it is
borne in upon him that only by the cross can he interpret God, make
God real to us, and bring us to the very heart of God. That is his

The cross is the outcome of his deepest mind, of his prayer life. It
is more like him than anything else he ever did. It has in it more
of him. Whoever he was, whoever he is, whatever our Christology, one
fact stands out. It was his love of men and women and his faith in
God that took him there.

Was he justified? was he right? or was it a delusion?

First of all, let us go back to a historic event. The resurrection
is, to a historian, not very clear in its details. But is it the
detail or the central fact that matters? Take away the resurrection,
however it happened, whatever it was, and the history of the Church
is unintelligible. We live in a rational world--a world, that is,
where, however much remains as yet unexplained, everything has a
promise of being lucid, everything has reason in it. Great results
have great causes. We have to find, somewhere or other, between the
crucifixion and the first preaching of the disciples in Jerusalem,
something that entirely changed the character of that group of men.

Something happened, so tremendous and so vital, that it changed not
only the character of the movement and the men--but with them the
whole history of the world. The evidence for the resurrection is not
so much what we read in the Gospels as what we find in the rest of
the New Testament--the new life of the disciples. They are a new
group. When it came to the cross, his cross, they ran away. A few
weeks later we find them rejoicing to be beaten, imprisoned and put
to death (Acts 5:41). What had happened? What we have to explain is
a new life--a new life of prayer and joy and power, a new
indifference to physical death, in a new relation to God. That is
one outcome of the cross and of what followed; and as historians we
have to explain it. We have also to explain how the disciples came
to conceive of another Galilean--a carpenter whom they might have
seen sawing and sweating in his shop, with whom they tramped the
roads of Palestine, whom they saw done to death in ignominy and
derision--sitting at the right hand of God. Taken by itself, we
might call such a belief mere folly; but too much goes with it for
so easy an explanation. The cross was not the end. As Mr. Neville
Talbot has recently pointed out in his book, "The Mind of the
Disciples", if the story stopped with the cross, God remains
unexplained, and the story ends in unrelieved tragedy. But it does
not end in tragedy; it ends--if we can use the word as yet--in joy
and faith and victory; and these--how should we have seen them but
for the cross? They are bound up with his choice of the cross and
his triumph over it all. Death is not what it was--"the last line of
all," as Horace says. Life and immortality have been brought to
light (2 Tim. 1:10). "The Lamb of God taketh away the sin of the
world." So we read at the beginning of the Fourth Gospel, and the
historical critic may tell us that he does not think that John the
Baptist said it. None the less, it is a wonderful summary of what
Jesus has done, especially wonderful if we think of it being written
fifty or sixty years after the crucifixion. For, as we survey the
centuries, we find that the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of
the world--to a degree that no one can imagine who has not studied
the ancient world. Those who know the heathen world intimately will
know best the difference he has made. All this new life, this new
joy, this new victory over death and sin is attached to the living
and victorious Son of God. The task of Paul and the others is, as
Dr. Cairns says, "re-thinking everything in the terms of the
resurrection." It is the new factor in the problem of God, so to
speak--the new factor which alters everything that relates to God.
That is saying a great deal, but when we look at Christian history,
is it saying too much?

But still our first question is unanswered; why should it have been
the cross? One thinker of our day has suggested that, after all,
suffering is a language intelligible to the very simplest, while its
meaning is not exhausted by the deepest. The problem of pain is
always with us. And he chose pain. He never said that pain is a good
thing; he cured it. But he chose it. The ancient world stumbled on
that very thing. God and a Godlike man, their philosophers said, are
not susceptible to pain, to suffering. That was an axiom, very
little challenged. Then if Jesus suffered, he was not God; if he was
God, he did not suffer. The Church denied that, just as the Church
to-day rejects another hasty antithesis about pain, that comes from
New England. He chose pain, and he knew what he was choosing. Then
let us be in no hurry about refusing it, but let us look into it. He
chose it--that is the greatest fact known to us about pain.

Again, the death of Christ reveals sin in its real significance, in
its true perspective, outside the realm of accident and among the
deepest things of God, "sub specie aeternitatia". Men count
themselves very decent people; so thought the priests and the
Pharisees, and they were. There is nothing about them that one
cannot find in most religious communities and in all governing
classes: the sense of the value of themselves, their preconceptions
and their judgements--a strong feeling of the importance of the work
they have to do, along with a certain reluctance to face strange
facts, and some indifference as to what happens to other people if
the accepted theory of the Cause or the State require them to
suffer. There is nothing about Pilate and Herod, and the Pharisees
and the priests, that is very different from ourselves. But how it
looks in front of the cross! We begin to see how it looks in the
sight of God, and that alters everything; it upsets all our
standards, and teaches us a new self-criticism.

"You think like man, and not like God," said Jesus (Mark 8:33). The
cross reveals God most sympathetically. We see God in the light of
the fullest and profoundest and tenderest revelation that the world
has had. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" that is the
cry of Jesus on the cross. I have sometimes thought there never was
an utterance that reveals more amazingly the distance between
feeling and fact. That was how he felt--worn out, betrayed, spat
upon, rejected. We feel that God was more there than ever. As has
been said, if it is not God, it is nothing. "God," says Paul, "was
in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Cor. 5:19). He
chose the cross; and in choosing it, Christians have always felt, he
revealed God; and that is the centre of the great act of Redemption.

But there is a condition antecedent to understanding the cross. We
have, as we agreed, to ask ourselves, what is the experience which
led him to think as he did? In the simpler language of the Gospels,
quite plain and easy to understand, the call to follow comes
first--the call to deeper association with Jesus Christ in his love
for men. Do not our consciences tell us that, if we really loved
people as Jesus does, if we understood them as sympathetically and
cared as much for them, the cross would be far more intelligible to
us? But if, in plain fact, we do not see why we should bear the
cross for others, why we should deny and obliterate self on this
scale for the salvation of men--how, I ask, to people of such a mind
should Jesus be intelligible? It is not to be expected. In no other
sphere would one dream of it. When a man avows that he does not care
for art or poetry, who would wish to show him poem or picture? How
should a person, who does not care for men, understand the cross?
Deeper association, then, with Jesus in his love of men, in his
agony, in his trust in God--that is the key to all. As we agreed at
the very beginning, we have to know him before we can understand

It all depends in the long run on one thing; and that we find in the
verse with which we started: "And as they followed, they began to be
afraid." But they followed. We can understand their fear. It comes
to a man in this way. If Jesus crucified means anything like what
the Church has said, and has believed; if God is in that man of
Nazareth reconciling the world to Himself; if there is real meaning
in the Incarnation at all; if all this language represents fact;
"then," he may say, "I am wholly at a loss about everything else." A
man builds up a world of thought for himself--we all do--a scheme of
things; and to a man with a thought-out view of the world, it may
come with an enormous shock to realize this incredible idea, this
incredible truth, of God in Christ. Those who have dwelt most on it,
and value it most, may be most apt to understand what I mean by
calling it incredible. Think of it. It takes your breath away. If
that is true, does not the whole plan of my life fall to pieces--my
whole scheme of things for the world, my whole body of intellectual
conceptions? And the man to whom this happens may well say he is
afraid. He is afraid, because it is so strange; because, when you
realize it, it takes you into a new world; you cannot grasp it. A
man whose instinct is for truth may hesitate--will hesitate about a
conception like this. "Is it possible," he will ask himself, "that I
am deluded?" And another thought rises up again and again, "Where
will it take me?" We can understand a man being afraid in that way.
I do not think we have much right _not_ to be afraid. If it is the
incarnation of God, what right have we not to be afraid? Then, of
course, a man will say that to follow Christ involves too much in
the way of sacrifice. He is afraid on lower grounds, afraid of his
family, afraid for his career; he hesitates. To that man the thing
will be unintelligible. The experience of St. Augustine, revealed in
his "Confessions", is illuminative here. He had intellectual
difficulties in his approach to the Christian position, but the rate
of progress became materially quicker when he realized that the
moral difficulties came first, that a practical step had to be
taken. So with us--to decide the issue, how far are we prepared to
go with Jesus? Have we realized the experience behind his thought?
The rule which we laid down at the beginning holds. How far are we
prepared to go in sharing that experience? That will measure our
right to understand him. Once again, in the plainest language, are
we prepared to follow, as the disciples followed, afraid as they

Where is he going? Where is he taking them? They wonder; they do not
know; they are uneasy. But when all is said, the figure on the road
ahead of them, waiting for them now and looking round, is the Jesus
who loves them and whom they love.

And one can imagine the feeling rising in the mind of one and
another of them: "I don't know where he is going, or where he is
taking us, but I must be with him." There we reach again what the
whole story began with--he chose twelve that they might "be with
him." To understand him, we, too, must be with him. What takes men
there? After all, it is, in the familiar phrase, the love of Jesus.
If one loves the leader, it is easier to follow him. But, whether
you understand him or whether you don't, if you love him you are
glad that he chose the cross, and you are glad that you are one of
his people.



Imperial Rome governed the whole of the Mediterranean world,--a
larger proportion and a greater variety of the human race than has
ever been under one government. So far as numbers go, the Russian
Empire to-day, the Chinese and the British, each far exceed it; for
the population of the world is vastly larger than it was in Rome's
days. But there was a peculiar unity about the Roman Empire, for it
embraced, as men thought, all civilized mankind. It was known that,
far away in the East, there were people called Indians, who had
fought with Alexander the Great, but there was little real knowledge
of them. Beyond India, there were vague rumours of a land where silk
grew on the leaves of the trees. But civilized mankind was under the
control of Rome. It was one rule of many races, many kingdoms,
princedoms, cities, cantons, and tribes--a wise rule, a rule that
allowed the maximum of local government and traditional usage: Rome
not merely conquered but captured men all over the world; ruled
them, as a poet said, like a mother, not a queen, and bound them to
herself. Men were eager, not so much to shake off her yoke, as to be
Romans; and from the Atlantic to the Euphrates men, not of Roman
blood, were proud to bear Roman names and to be Roman citizens. "I
was free born," said St. Paul, not without a touch of satisfaction
(Acts 22:25-28). A general peace prevailed through the Roman
world--a peace that was new to mankind. There was freedom of
intercourse; one of the boasts made by the writers of the Roman
Empire is of this new freedom to travel, to go anywhere one pleased.
Piracy on the sea, brigandage on the land, had been put down, and
there was a very great deal of travel. The Roman became an
inveterate tourist. He went to the famous scenes of Asia Minor, to
Troy above all--to "sunny Rhodes and Mitylene"--to Egypt. Merchants
went everywhere. And there was a fusing of cultures, traditions, and
creeds, all over the Mediterranean world. Centuries before,
Alexander the Great had struck out the splendid idea of the marriage
of East and West. He secured it by breaking down the Persian Empire,
and making one Empire from the Adriatic to this side of the Sutlej
or Bias. He desired to cement this marriage of East and West in a
way of his own. He took three hundred captive princesses and ladies,
and married them in a batch to Macedonian officers--a very
characteristic piece of symbolism. But his idea was greater and
truer than the symbol.

The Roman marriage of the East and West was a more real thing, for
behind it lay three centuries of growing intercourse and knowledge
along Alexander's lines. In the sphere of religion we find it most
clearly. There rises a resultant world-religion--a religion that
embraces all the cults, all the creeds, and at last all the
philosophies, in one great system. That religion held the world. It
is true, there were exceptions. There was a small and objectionable
race called Jews; there were possibly some Druids in Southern
Britain; and here and there was a solitary atheist who represented
no one but himself. These few exceptions were the freaks amongst
mankind. Apart from them mankind was united in its general beliefs
about the gods. The world had one religion.

First of all, let us try to estimate the strength of this old
Mediterranean Paganism. It was strong in its great traditions.
Plutarch, who lived from about 50 A.D. to 117 or so, is our great
exponent of this old religion. To him I shall have to refer
constantly. He was a writer of charm, a man with many gifts.
Plutarch's Lives was the great staple of education in the
Renaissance--and as good a one, perhaps, as we have yet discovered,
even in this age when there are so many theories of education with
foreign names. Plutarch, then, writing about Delphi, the shrine and
oracle of the god Apollo, said that men had been "in anguish and
fear lest Delphi should lose its glory of three thousand years"--and
Delphi has not lost it. For ninety generations the god has been
giving oracles to the Greek world, to private people, to kings, to
cities, to nations--and on all sorts of subjects, on the foundation
of colonies, the declaration of wars, personal guidance and the hope
of heirs. You may test the god where you will, Plutarch claimed, you
will not find an instance of a false oracle. Readers of Greek
history will remember another great writer of as much charm, five
hundred years before, Herodotus, who was not so sure about all the
oracles. But let us think what it means,--to look back over three
thousand years of one faith, unbroken. Egyptian religion had been
unchallenged for longer still, even if we allow Plutarch's three
thousand years. The oldest remains in Egypt antedate, we are told,
4000 B.C., and all through history, with the exception of the
solitary reign of Amen-Hotep III., Egypt worshipped the same gods,
with additions, as time went on. Again an unbroken tradition. And
how long, under various names, had Cybele, Mother of Gods, been
worshipped in Asia? By our era all these religions were fused into
one religion, of many cults and rites and ancient traditions; and
the incredible weight of old tradition in that world is hard to

The old religion was strong in the splendour of its art and its
architecture. The severe, beautiful lines of the Greek temple are
familiar to us still; and, until I saw the Taj, I think I should
have doubted whether there could be anything more beautiful.
Architecture was consecrated to the gods, and so was art. You go to
Delphi, said Plutarch, and see those wonderful works of the ancient
artists and sculptors, as fresh still as if they had left the chisel
yesterday, and they had stood there for hundreds of years, wonderful
in their beauty. Think of some of the remains of the Greek art--of
that Victory, for instance, which the Messenians set on the temple
at Olympia in 421 B.C. She stood on a block of stone on the temple,
but the block was painted blue, so that, as the spectator came up,
he saw the temple and the angle of its roof, and then a gap of blue
sky and the goddess just alighting on the summit of the temple. From
what is left of her, broken and headless, but still beautiful, we
can picture her flying through the air--the wind has blown her dress
back against her, and you see its folds freshly caught by the
breeze. And all this the artist had disentangled from a rough block
of stone--so vivid was his conception of the goddess, and so sure
his hand. There are those who say that the conventional picture of
God of the great artists is moulded after the Zeus of Pheidias.
Egypt again had other portrayals of the gods--on a pattern of her
own, strange and massive and huge, far older. About six hundred
years before Christ the Egyptian King, Psammetichos (Psem Tek),
hired Greek soldiers and marched them hundreds of miles up the Nile.
The Greek soldiers, one idle day, carved their names on the legs of
the colossal gods seated at Abu Symbel. Their names are found there
to-day. So old are these gods.

The religion was strong in the splendour of its ceremony. Every year
the Athenian people went to Eleusis in splendid procession to
worship, to be initiated into the rites of the Earth-Mother and her
virgin daughter, who had taught men the use of grain and the arts of
farming-rites linked with an immemorial past, awful rites that gave
men a new hope of eternal life. The Mother of the Gods, from Phrygia
in Asia Minor, had her rites, too; and her cult spread all over the
world. When the Roman poet, Lucretius, wants to describe the wonder
and magic of the pageant of Nature in the spring-time he goes to the
pomp of Cybele. The nearest thing to it which we can imagine is
Botticelli's picture of the Triumph of Spring. Lucretius was a poet
to whom the gods were idle and irrelevant; yet to that pageant he
goes for a picture of the miraculous life of nature. More splendid
still were the rites of the Egyptian Isis, celebrated all over the
world. Her priests, shaven and linen-clad, carried symbols of an
unguessed antiquity and magical power. They launched a boat with a
flame upon it--on the river in Egypt, on the sea in Greece. All
these cults made deep impressions on the worshippers, as our records
tell us. The appeal of religious emotion was noticed by Aristotle,
who remarked, however, that it was rather feeling than intellect
that was touched--a shrewd criticism that deserves to be remembered

The gods were strong in their actual manifestations of themselves.
Apollo for ninety generations had spoken in Delphi. At Epidauros
there was a shrine of Asclepias. Its monuments have been collected
and edited by Dr. Caton of Liverpool. There sick men and women came,
lived a quiet life of diet and religious ceremony, preparing for the
night on which they should sleep in the temple. On that night the
god came to them, they said, in that mood or state where they lay
"between asleep and awake, sometimes as in a dream and then as in a
waking vision--one's hair stood on end, but one shed tears of joy
and felt light-hearted." Others said they definitely saw him. He
came and told them what to do; on waking they did it and were
healed; or he touched them then and there, and cured them as they
lay. Some of the cures recorded on the monuments are perhaps strange
to our ideas of medicine. One records how the god came to man
dreadfully afflicted with dropsy, cut off his head, turned him
upside down and let the fluid run out, and then replaced his head
with a neat join. Some modern readers may doubt this story; but that
the god did heal people, men firmly believed. We, too, may believe
that people were healed, perhaps by living a healthy life in a quiet
place, a life of regimen and diet; and perhaps faith-healing or
suggestion played as strong a part as anything else. Even the
Christians believed that these gods had a certain power; they were
evil spirits.

Not only the gods of the temples would manifest themselves of their
grace. Every man had a guardian spirit, a "genius"; and by proper
means he could be "compelled" to show himself visibly. The pupils of
Plotinus conjured up his "genius", and it came--not a daemon, but a
god. The right formula ("mantram") and the right stone in the
hand--and a man had a wonderful power over the gods themselves. This
was called "theurgy".

But the great strength of this old religion was its infinite
adaptability. It made peace with every god and goddess that it met.
It adopted them all. As a French scholar has said, where there is
polytheism there are no false gods. All the religions were fused and
the gods were blended. The Roman went to Greece and identified
Jupiter with Zeus; he went to Egypt and found him in Amun (Ammon);
he went to Syria and found him in Baal. If the Jew had not been so
foolish and awkward, there might have been a Jupiter Jehovah as
well. It was a catholic faith, embracing everything--cult and creed
and philosophy--strong in all the ways we have surveyed and in many
more, above all because it was unchallenged.

And yet, where is that religion to-day? That, to me, is one of the
most significant questions in history--more so, the longer I stay in
India. Men knew that that religion of Greece and Rome was eternal;
yet it is utterly gone. Why? How _could_ it go? What conceivable
power was there, I do not say, to bring it down, but to abolish it
so thoroughly, that not a soul in Egypt worships Isis--how many even
know her name?--not a soul in Italy thinks of Jove but as a fancy,
and Pallas Athene in Athens itself is a mere memory? That is the
problem, the historical problem, with which we have now to deal.

First of all, let us look again, and more closely, at that old
religion--we shall find in it at least four cardinal weaknesses.

First, it stands for "the unexamined life," as Plato called it. "The
unexamined life," he says, "is not liveable for a human being." A
man, who is a man, must cross-examine life, must make life face up
to him and yield its secrets. He must know what it means, the
significance of every relation of life--father and child, man and
wife, citizen and city, subject and king, man and the world--above
all, man and God. We must examine and know. But this old religion
stood by tradition and not reflection. There was no deep sense of
truth. Plutarch admired his father, and he describes, with warm
approval, how his father once said to a man: "That is a dangerous
question, not to be discussed at all--when you question the opinion
we hold about the gods, and ask reason and demonstration for
everything." Such an attitude means mistrust, it means at bottom a
fundamental unfaith. The house is beautiful; do not touch it; it is
riddled by white ants, by dry rot, and it would fall. That is not
faith; it is a strange confession; but all who hesitate at changes,
I think, make that confession sooner or later. There is a line of
Kabir which puts the essence of this: "Penance is not equal to
truth, nor is there any sin like untruth." This was one of the
essential weaknesses of that old religion--its fear, and the absence
of a deep sense of truth.

In the next place, there is no real association of morals with
religion. The old stories were full of the adventures of Jupiter, or
Zeus, with the heroines, mortal women, whom he loved. Of some 1900
wall paintings at Pompeii, examined by a German scholar and
antiquary, some 1400 represent mythological subjects, largely the
stories of the loves of Jupiter. The Latin dramatist Terence
pictures the young man looking at one of these paintings and saying
to himself, "If Jupiter did it, why should not I?" Centuries later
we find Augustine quoting that sentence. It has been said that few
things tended more strongly against morality than the stories of the
gods preserved by Homer and Hesiod. Plato loved Homer; so much the
more striking is his resolve that in his "Republic" there should be
no Homer. Men said: "Ah, but you don't understand; those stories are
allegories. They do not mean what they say; they mean something
deeper." But Plato said we must speak of God always as he is; we
must in no case tell lies about God "whether they are allegories or
whether they are not allegories." Plato, like every real thinker,
sees that this pretence of allegory is a sham. The story did its
mischief whether it was allegory or not; it stood between man and
God, and headed men on to wrong lines, turned men away from the
moral standard.

There was more. Every year, as we saw, men went to be initiated into
the rites of Demeter at Eleusis, a few miles from Athens. And we
read how one of the great Athenian orators, Lysias, went there and
took with him to be initiated a harlot, with whom he was living, and
the woman's proprietress--a squalid party; and they were initiated.
Their morals made no difference; the priests and the goddesses
offered no objection. In the temple of Aphrodite at Corinth there
were women slaves dedicated to the goddess, who owned them, and who
received the wages of their shame. With what voice could religion
speak for morality in Corinth? At Comana in Syria (we read in Strabo
the geographer, about the time of Christ) there was a temple where
there were six thousand of these temple slaves. I say again, that is
the unexamined life. God and goddess have nothing to say about some
of the most sacred relations in life. God, goddess, priest,
worshipper, never gave a thought to these poor creatures, dedicated,
not by themselves, to this awful life--human natures with the
craving of the real woman for husband and child, for the love of
home, but never to know it. That was associated with religion; that
was religion. There was always a minimum of protest from the Greek
temples against wrong or for right. It is remarked, again and again,
that all the great lessons came, not from the temples, not from the
priests, but from the poets and philosophers, from the thinkers in
revolt against the religion of their people. Curiously enough, even
in Homer himself, it is plain that the heroes, the men, are on a
higher moral plane than the gods; and all through Greek history the
gods are a drag on morality. What a weakness in religion! The sense
of wrong and right is innate in man; it may be undeveloped, or it
may be deadened, but it is instinctive; and a religion which does
not know it, or which finds the difference between right and wrong
to lie in matters of taboo or ceremonial defilement, cannot speak to
one of the deepest needs of the human heart, the need of
forgiveness. There is no righteousness, in the long run, about these

In the third place, the religion has the common weakness of all
polytheism. Men were afraid of the gods; there were thousands and
thousands, hosts of them. At every turn you ran into one, a new one;
you could never be certain that you would not offend some unknown
god or goddess. Superstition was the curse of the day. You had to
make peace with all these gods and goddesses--and not with them
alone. For there was another class of supernatural beings, dangerous
if unpropitiated, the daemons, the spirits that inhabited the air,
that presided over life and its stages, that helped or hated the
human soul, spiteful and evil half-divine beings, that sent illness,
bad luck, madness, that stole the honours of the gods themselves and
insisted on rituals and worship, often unclean, often cruel, but
inevitable. A man must watch himself closely if he was to be safe
from them all, if he was to keep wife and child and home safe.

Superstition, men said, was the one curse of life that made no truce
with sleep. A famous Christian writer of the second century, Tatian,
speaks of the enormous relief that he found in getting away from the
tyranny of ten thousand gods to be under a monarchy of One. A modern
Japanese, Uchimura, said the same thing: "One God, not eight
millions; that was joyful news to me."

Fourthly, this religion took from the grave none of its terrors.
There might be a world beyond, and there might not. At any rate, "be
initiated," said the priests; "you will have to pay us something,
but it is worth it." Prophets and quacks, said Plato, came to rich
men's doors and made them believe that they could rid them of all
alarm for the next world, by incantations and charms and other
things, by a series of feasts and jollifications. So they said, and
men did what they were told; but it did not take away the fear of

From the first century onwards men began systematically to defend
this old paganism. Plutarch wrote a series of books in its behalf.
He brings in something like love of god for man. He speaks of "the
friendly Apollo." But the weakness of Plutarch as an apologist is
his weakness as biographer--he never really gets at the bottom of
anything. In biography he gives us the characteristic rather than
the character. Here he never faces the real issue. It is all
defence, apology, ingenuity; but he defends far too much. He admits
there are obscene rites; there had been human sacrifices; but the
gods cannot have ordained them; daemons, who stole the names of
gods, imposed these on men--not the gods; men practised them to
avert the anger of daemons. The gods are good. Waiving the fact that
he had not much evidence for this in the mythology, how was a man to
distinguish god from daemon, to know which is which? He does not
tell us. Again he speaks of the image of Osiris with three
"lingams". He apologizes for it; he defends it; for the triplicity
is a symbol of godhead, and it means that God is the origin of all
life. Yes, but what that religion needed was a great reformer, who
should have cut the religion clear adrift from idols of every kind,
from the old mythology, from obscenity. It may very well be that
such a reformer was unthinkable; even if he had appeared, he would
have been foredoomed to fail, as the compromise of the Stoics shows.
Plutarch and his kind did not attempt this. They loved the past and
the old ways. At heart they were afraid of the gods and were afraid
of tradition. Culture and charm will do a great deal, but they do
not suffice for a religion--either to make one or to redeem it.

The Stoics reached, I think, the highest moral level in that Roman
world--great men, great teachers of morals, great characters; but as
for the crowd, they said, let them go on in the religions of their
own cities; what they had learnt from their fathers, let them do. So
much for the ignorant; for us, of course, something else. That seems
to be a fundamentally wrong defence of religion. It gets the
proportions wrong. It means that we, who are people of culture, are
a great deal nearer to God than the crowd. But if we realize God at
all, we feel that we are none of us very far apart down here. The
most brilliant men are amenable to the temptations of the savage and
of the dock labourer. There was a further danger, little noticed at
first, that life is apt to be overborne by the vulgar, the ignorant,
if there is not a steady campaign to enlighten every man. The Roman
house was full of slaves; they taught the children--taught them
about gods and goddesses, from Syria, from Egypt, and kept thought
and life and morals on a low plane. An ignorant public is, an
unspeakable danger everywhere, but especially in religion.

The last great system of defence was the New Platonism. It had not
very much to do with Plato, except that it read him and quoted him
as a great authority. The Neo-Platonists did not face facts as Plato
did. They lived on quotations, on authority and fancy, great
thinkers as some of them were. They pictured the universe as one
vast unity. Far beyond all things is God. Of God man can form no
conception. Think, they would say, of all the exalted and wonderful
and beautiful concepts you can imagine; then deny them. God is
beyond. God is beyond being; you can conceive of being, and
therefore to predicate being of God is to limit him. You cannot
think of God; for, if you could think of God, God would be in
relation with you; God is insusceptible of relation with man. He
neither wills, nor thinks of man, nor can man think of him. A modern
philosopher has summed up their God as the deification of the word
"not." This God, then, who is not, willed--no! not "willed"; he
could not will; but whether he willed or did not will, in some way
or other there was an emanation; not God, but very much of God; very
divine, but not all God; from this another and another in a
descending series, down to the daemons, and down to men. All that
is, is God; evil is not-being. One of the great features of the
system was that it guaranteed all the old religions--for the crowd;
while for the initiated, for the esoteric, it had something more--it
had mystic trance, mystic vision, mystic comprehension. Twice or
three times, Plotinus, by a great leap away from all mortal things,
saw God. In the meantime, the philosophy justified all the old

Side by side with this great defence were what are known as the
Christian heresies. They are not exactly Christian. Groups of people
endeavoured to combine Christianity with the old thought, with
philosophy, theosophy, theurgy, and magic. They were eclectics; they
compromised. The German thinker, Novalis, said very justly that all
eclectics are sceptics, and the more eclectic the more sceptic.
These mixtures could not prevail.

But religions have, historically, a wonderful way of living in spite
of their weaknesses--yes, and in spite of their apologetics. A
religion may be stained with all sorts of evil, and may communicate
it; and yet it will survive, until there is an alternative with more
truth and more dynamic. The old paganism outlived Plato's criticisms
and Plutarch's defences. For the great masses of people neither
might have written.

Into this world came the Christian Church. I have tried to draw the
picture of the great pagan religion, with its enormous strength, its
universal acceptance, its great traditions, its splendours of art
and ceremony, its manifest proofs of its gods--everything that, to
the ordinary mind, could make for reality and for power; to show how
absolutely inconceivable it was that it could ever pass away. Then
comes the Christian Church--a ludicrous collection of trivial
people, very ignorant and very common; fishermen and publicans, as
the Gospels show us, "the baker and the fuller," as Celsus said with
a sneer. Yes, and every kind of unclean and disreputable person they
urged to join them, quite unlike all decent and established
religions. And they took the children and women of the family away
into a corner, and whispered to them and misled them--"Only
believe!" was their one great word. The whole thing was incredibly
silly. Paul went to Athens, and they asked him there about his
religion; and when he spoke to them about Jesus rising from the
dead, they sniggered, and the more polite suggested "another day."
Everybody knew that dead men do not rise. It was a silly religion.
Celsus pictured the frogs in symposium round a swamp, croaking to
one another how God forsakes the whole universe, the spheres of
heaven, to dwell with us; we frogs are so like God; he never ceases
to seek how we may dwell with him for ever; but some of us are
sinners, so God will come--or send his son--and burn them up; and
the rest of us will live with him for eternity. Is not that very
like the Christian religion? Celsus asked. It has been replied that,
if the frogs really could say this and did say this, then their
statement might be quite reasonable. But our main purpose for the
moment is to realize the utterly inconceivable absurdity of this
bunch of Galilean fishermen--and fools and rascals and
maniacs--setting out to capture the world. One of them wrote an
Apocalypse. He was in a penal settlement on Patmos, when he wrote
it. The sect was in a fair way of being stamped out in blood, as a
matter of fact; but this dreamer saw a triumphant Church of ten
thousand times ten thousand--and thousands of thousands--there were
hardly as many people in the world at that time; the great Rome had
fallen and the "Lamb" ruled. Imagine the amusement of a Roman pagan
of 100 A.D. who read the absurd book. Yet the dream has come true;
that Church has triumphed. Where is the old religion? Christ has
conquered, and all the gods have gone, utterly gone--they are
memories now, and nothing more. Why did they go? The Christian
Church refused to compromise. A pagan could have seen no real reason
why Jesus should not be a demi-god like Herakles or Dionysos; no
reason, either, why a man should not worship Jesus as well as these.
One of the Roman Emperors, a little after 200 A.D., had in his
private sanctuary four or five statues of gods, and one of them was
Jesus. Why not? The Roman world had open arms for Jesus as well as
any other god or demi-god, if people would be sensible; but the
Christian said, No. He would not allow Jesus to be put into that
pantheon, nor would he worship the gods himself, not even the
"genius" of the Emperor, his guardian spirit. The Christian
proclaimed a war of religion in which there shall be no compromise
and no peace, till Christ is lord of all; the thing shall be fought
out to the bitter end. And it has been. He was resolved that the old
gods should go; and they have gone. How was it done?

Here we touch what I think one of the greatest wonders that history
has to show. How did the Church do it? If I may invent or adapt
three words, the Christian "out-lived" the pagan, "out-died" him,
and "out-thought" him. He came into the world and lived a great deal
better than the pagan; he beat him hollow in living. Paul's Epistles
to the Corinthians do not indicate a high standard of life at
Corinth. The Corinthians were a very poor sort of Christians. But
another Epistle, written to the Corinthians a generation later,
speaks of their passion for being kind to men, and of a broadened
and deeper life, in spite of their weaknesses. Here and there one
recognizes failure all along the line--yes, but the line advances.
The old world had had morals, plenty of morals--the Stoics
overflowed with morals. But the Christian came into the world, not
with a system of morality--he had rules, indeed--"which," asks
Tertullian, "is the ampler rule, Thou shalt not commit adultery, or
the rule that forbids a single lustful look?"--but it was not rules
so much that he brought into the world as a great passion. "The Son
of God," he said, "loved me and gave himself for me. That man--Jesus
Christ loved him, gave himself for him. He is the friend of my best
Friend. My best Friend loves that man, gave himself for him, died
for him." How it alters all the relations of life! Who can kill or
rob another man, when he remembers whose hands were nailed to the
Cross for that man? See how it bears on another side of morality.
Tertullian strikes out a great phrase, a new idea altogether, when
he speaks of "the victim of the common lust." Christ died for
her--how it safeguards her and uplifts her! Men came into the world
full of this passion for Jesus Christ. They went to the slave and to
the temple-woman and told them: "The Son of God loved you and gave
himself for you"; and they believed it, and rose into a new life. To
be redeemed by the Son of God gave the slave a new self-respect, a
new manhood. He astonished people by his truth, his honesty, his
cleanness; and there was a new brightness and gaiety about him. So
there was about the woman. They sang, they overflowed with good
temper. It seemed as if they had been born again. As Clement of Rome
wrote, the Holy Spirit was a glad spirit. The word used both by him
and by St. Augustine is that which gives us the English word
"hilarious." There was a new gladness and happiness about these
people. "It befits Truth to laugh, because she is glad--to play with
her rivals because she is free from fear," so said Tertullian. Of
course, there were those who broke down, but Julian the Apostate, in
his letters to his heathen priests, is a reluctant witness to the
higher character of Christian life. And it was Jesus who was the
secret of it.

The pagan noticed the new fortitude in the face of death. Tertullian
himself was immensely impressed with it. He had never troubled to
look at the Gospels. Nobody bothered to read them unless they were
converted already, he said. But he seems to have seen these
Christian martyrs die. "Every man," he said, "who sees it, is moved
with some misgiving, and is set on fire to learn the reason; he
inquires and he is taught; and when he has learnt the truth, he
instantly follows it himself as well." "No one would have wished to
be killed, unless he was in possession of the truth." I think that
is autobiography. The intellectual energy of the man is worth
noting--his insistence on understanding, his instant resolution;
such qualities, we saw, had won the admiration of Jesus. Here is a
man who sacrifices a great career--his genius, his wit, his humour,
fire, power, learning, philosophy, everything thrown at Christ's
feet, and Christ uses them all. Then came a day when persecution was
breaking out again. Some Christians were for "fleeing to the next
city"--it was the one text in their Bible, he said. He said: "I stay
here." Any day the mob might get excited and shout: "The Christians
to the lions." They knew the street in which he lived, and they
would drag him--the scholar, the man of letters and of
imagination--naked through the streets; torn and bleeding, they
would tie him to the stake in the middle of the amphitheatre and
pile faggots round him, and there he would stand waiting to be burnt
alive; or, it might be, to be killed by the beasts. Any hour, any
day. "I stay here," he said. What does it cost a man to do that?
People asked what was the magic of it. The magic of it was just
this--on the other side of the fire was the same Friend; "if he
wants me to be burnt alive, I am here." Jesus Christ was the secret
of it.

The Christians out-thought the pagan world. How could they fail to?
"We have peace with God," said Paul. They moved about in a new
world, which was their Father's world. They would go to the shrines
and ask uncomfortable questions. Lucian, who was a pagan and a
scoffer, said that on one side of the shrines the notice was posted:
"Christians outside." The Christians saw too much. The living god in
that shrine was a big snake with a mask tied on--good enough for the
pagan; but the Christian would see the strings. Even the daemons
they dismissed to irrelevance and non-entity. The essence of magic
was to be able to link the name of a daemon with the name of one's
enemy, to set the daemon on the man. "Very well," said the
Christian, "link my name with your daemons. Use my name in any magic
you like. There is a name that is above every name; I am not
afraid." That put the daemons into their right place, and by and by
they vanished, dropped out, died of sheer inanition and neglect.
Wherever Jesus Christ has been, the daemons have gone. "There used
to be fairies," said an old woman in the Highlands of Scotland to a
friend of mine, "but the Gospel came and drove them away." I do not
know what is going to keep them away yet but Jesus Christ. The
Christian read the ancient literature with the same freedom of mind,
and was not in bondage to it; he had a new outlook; he could
criticize more freely. One great principle is given by Clement of
Alexandria: "The beautiful, wherever it is, is ours, because it came
from our God." The Christian read the best books, assimilated them,
and lived the freest intellectual life that the world had. Jesus had
set him to be true to fact. Why had Christian churches to be so much
larger than pagan temples? Why are they so still? Because the sermon
is in the very centre of all Christian worship--clear, definite
Christian teaching about Jesus Christ. There is no place for an
ignorant Christian. From the very start every Christian had to know
and to understand, and he had to read the Gospels; he had to be able
to give the reason for his faith. He was committed to a great
propaganda, to the preaching of Jesus, and he had to preach with
penetration and appeal. There they were loyal to the essential idea
of Jesus--they were "sons of fact." They read about Jesus,[32] and
they knew him, and they knew where they stood. This has been the
essence of the Christian religion. Put that alongside of the pitiful
defence which Plutarch makes of obscene rites, filthy images,
foolish traditions. Who did the thinking in that ancient world?
Again and again it was the Christian. He out-thought the world.

The old religion crumbled and fell, beaten in thought, in morals, in
life, in death. And by and by the only name for it was paganism, the
religion of the back-country village, of the out-of-the-way places.
Christ had conquered. "Dic tropoeum passionis, dic triumphalem
Crucem", sang Prudentius--"Sing the trophy of the Passion; sing the
all-triumphant Cross." The ancients thought that God repeated the
whole history of the universe over and over again, like a cinema
show. Some of them thought the kingdoms rise and fall by pure
chance. No, said Prudentius, God planned; God developed the history
of mankind; he made Rome for his own purposes, for Christ.

What is the explanation of it? We who live in a rational universe,
where real results come from real causes, must ask what is the power
that has carried the Christian Church to victory over that great old
religion. And there is another question: is this story going to be
repeated? What is there about Shiva, Kali, or Shri Krishna that
essentially differentiates them from the gods of Greece and Rome and
Egypt? Tradition, legend, philosophy--point by point, we find the
same thing; and we find the same Christian Church, with the same
ideals, facing the same conflict. What will be the result? The
result will be the same. We have seen in China, in the last two
decades, how the Christian Church is true to its traditions; how men
can die for Jesus Christ. In the Greek Church--a suffering
Church--on the round sacramental wafer there is a cross, and in the
four corners there are the eight letters, IE, XE, NI, KA, "Jesus
Christ conquers." That is the story of the Christian Church in the
Roman Empire. That is the story which, please God, we shall see
again in India. "Jesus Christ conquers."



Jesus Christ came to men as a great new experience. He took them far
outside all they had known of God and of man. He led them,
historically, into what was, in truth, a new world, into a new
understanding of life in all its relations. What they had never
noticed before, he brought to their knowledge, he made interesting
to them, and intelligible. In short, as Paul put it, "if any man be
in Christ, it is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17). The aspects of
things were different; the values were changed, and a new
perspective made clear relations that were obscure and tangled
before. Why should it have been so? Why should it be, that, when a
man comes into contact, into some kind of sympathy with Jesus
Christ, some living union with him, everything becomes new, and he
by and by begins to feel with St. Paul: "To me to live is Christ"
(Phil. 1:21)? Why has Jesus meant so much? Why should all this be
associated with him?

Plato, in the sentence already quoted, tells us that "the unexamined
life is unliveable for a human being, for a real man." Here, then,
came into man's life a new experience altogether, like nothing known
before altering everything, giving new sympathies, new passions, new
enthusiasms--a new attitude to God and a new attitude to men. It was
inevitable that thought must work upon it. Who was this Jesus that
he should produce this result? Men asked themselves that very early;
and if they were slow to do so, the criticism of the outsider drove
them into it. The result has been nineteen centuries of endless
question and speculation as to Jesus Christ--the rise of dogma,
creed, and formula, as slowly all the philosophy of mankind has been
re-thought in the light of the central experience of Jesus Christ.
In spite of all that we may regret in the war of creeds, it was
inevitable--it was part of the disturbance that Jesus foresaw he
must make (Luke 12:51). Men "could do no other"--they had to
determine for themselves the significance of Jesus in the real
world, in the whole cosmos of God; and it meant fruitful conflict of
opinion, the growth of the human mind, and an ever-heightened
emphasis on Jesus.

An analogy may illustrate in some way the story before us. One of
the most fascinating chapters of geography is the early exploration
of America. Chesapeake Bay was missed by one explorer. Fog or
darkness may have been the cause of his missing the place; but he
missed it, and, though it is undoubtedly there, he made his map
without it. Now let us suppose a similar case--for it must often
have happened in early days--and this time we will say it was the
Hudson, or some river of that magnitude. A later explorer came, and
where the map showed a shore without a break, he found a huge inlet
or outlet. Was it an arm of the sea, a vast bay, or was it a great
river? A very great deal depended on which it was, and the first
thing was to determine that. There were several ways of doing it.
One was to sail up and map the course. A quicker way was to drop a
bucket over the side of the ship. The bucket, we may be sure, went
down; and it came up with fresh water; and the water was an instant
revelation of several new and important facts. They had discovered,
first of all, that where there was an unbroken coast-line on the
map, there was nothing of the kind in reality; there was a broad
waterway up into the country; and this was not a bay, but the mouth
of a river, and a very great river indeed; and this implied yet
another discovery--that men had to reckon with no mere island or
narrow peninsula, but an immense continent, which it remained to

Jesus Christ was in himself a very great discovery for those to whom
he gave himself, and the exploration of him shows a somewhat similar
story. Men have often said that they see nothing in him very
different from the rest of us; while others have found in him, in
the phrase of the Apocalypse (Rev. 22:1), the "water of life"; and
the positive announcement is here, as in the other case, the more
important of the two. The discovery of the volume of life, which
comes from Jesus Christ, is one of the greatest that men have made.
Merely to have dipped his bucket, as it were, in that great stream
of life has again and again meant everything to a man. Think of what
the new-found river of the New World meant to some of those early
explorers after weeks at sea--

Water, water everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink--

and they reach an immense flood of river-water. It was new life at
once; but it did not necessarily mean the immediate exploration of
everything, the instant completion of geographical discovery. It was
life and the promise of more to follow. The history of the Church is
a record, we may put it, both of the discovery of the River of Life
and of the exploration of its course and its sources, and of what
lies behind it. But the discovery and the exploration are different
things, and the first is quicker and more certain than the second.
Most of us will admit that we have not gone very far up into that
Continent. The object of this chapter is not to attempt to survey or
compendiarise Christian exploration of Jesus, but to try to find for
ourselves a new approach to an estimate of the historical figure who
has been and remains the centre of everything.

We may classify the records of the Christian exploration roughly in
three groups. In the early Christian centuries, we find endless
thought given to the philosophical study of the relation of Christ
and God. It fills the library of the Early Church, and practically
all the early controversies turn upon it. The weak spot in all this
was the use of the "a priori" method. Men started with
preconceptions about God--not unnaturally, for we all have some
theories about God, which we are apt to regard as knowledge. But
knowledge is a difficult thing to reach in any sphere of study; and
men assumed too quickly that they had attained a sound philosophical
account of God. They over-estimated their actual knowledge of God
and did not recognize to the full the importance of their new
experience. This may seem ungenerous to men, who gave life and
everything for Jesus Christ, and to whose devotion, to whose love of
Jesus, we owe it that we know him--an ungenerous criticism of their
brave thinking, and their independence in a hundred ways of old
tradition. Still it is true that the weakness of much of their
Christology--and of ours--is that it starts with a borrowed notion
of God, which really has very little to do with the Christian
religion. To this we shall return; but in the meantime we may note
that here as elsewhere preconceptions have to be lightly held by the
serious student. Huxley once wrote to Charles Kingsley: "Science
seems to me to teach in the highest and strongest manner the great
truth that is embodied in the Christian conception of entire
surrender to the will of God. Sit down before the fact as a little
child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow
humbly wherever and to whatever end Nature leads, or you shall learn
nothing .... I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind
since I have resolved at all risks to do this." So Huxley wrote
about the study of natural science. In this great inquiry of ours we
have to learn to be patient enough--we might say, ignorant
enough--to do the same. The Early Church had a faith in Greek
philosophy, which stood in its way, brave and splendid as its
thinkers were.

Our second group is represented roughly by the Hymn Book. The
evidential value of a good hymn book will stand investigation. Of
course a great many hymns are mere copies, and poor copies; but the
Hymn Book at its best is a collection of first-hand records of
experience.[33] In the story of the Christian Church doxology comes
before dogma. When the writer of the Apocalypse breaks out at the
very beginning: "Unto him that loved us and washed[34] us from our
sins in his own blood . . . be glory and dominion for ever and ever"
(Rev. 1:5), he is recording a great experience; and his doxology
leads him on to an explanation of what he has felt and known--to an


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