Read: The Heart of the Gospel

The Bible and the Baha'i Faith
George Townshend, M.A. (Oxon.)
(c) 1972
1972 Ed.
This essay endeavours to follow the guidance of Baha'u'llah
back to Christ and to let the light of the Gospel shine in its
ancient purity upon the darkness of our time. It is conceived
and written in the firm belief that any Christian who reaches
the heart of the Gospel and understands the true exaltation
of Christ will soon discover the way that lies open, through
Baha'u'llah, to the reunion of the Christian Churches, the
re-Christianising of the West, and the regeneration of the
human race.
The Bible bears witness that history in its essence is a
spiritual thing and cannot be rightly understood except from
a spiritual point of view. Realistic as the sacred narrative
is, exposing freely all the weakness and wickedness of
mankind, it maintains always the spiritual attitude. It never
modifies its opening words: 'In the beginning, God'. It shows
that the forces which impel history and the laws that govern
it, its origin and its ultimate issue, all belong to the
spiritual realm. It reveals in human events the presence of
a universal continuity which flows on for ever, as a
mysterious divine Will works out its gradual purpose upon the
surface of the planet.
The true beginnings of the Gospel are not to be found within
the limits of the New Testament. They reach back through the
length of the Bible to the Pentateuch, to the time of Moses
and of Abraham and beyond. They are
involved in the design of Creation itself. And its end is
revealed only in those prophecies and promises which fill the
closing chapters of the Scripture and which through all the
vicissitudes of these intervening centuries have warmed the
hearts of Christians with expectancy and hope.
If we are to follow the example of the Bible in dealing with
the problems of our time, we will regard first their spiritual
aspect and will search out the spiritual issues that are at
stake, since upon these the material issues depend. We shall
be prepared to trace the causes of today's events far back
through modern and medieval times to spiritual energies
released by our eternal Father in distant centuries.
In His teaching, and particularly in His Book of Certitude
Baha'u'llah makes it clear that the Bible was given to mankind
for the same purpose as that for which the Gospel was
preached: to prepare humanity that they might recognise,
appreciate, and use with wisdom the supreme crisis which He
foresaw, and in which we find ourselves involved today, when,
standing at the apex of the corporate history of mankind, we
are in a position of unprecedented danger and also of
unprecedented opportunity. Baha'u'llah explained that the
perplexity of our world leaders, their inability to master the
problems of the era or tell whence these problems came or why
they came or whither they lead or what they mean, is
ultimately due to a moral and spiritual cause. It springs from
a misunderstanding of the Gospel, and a misinterpretation of
the symbolism and the abstruse terms in which many of
* Kitab-i-Iqan (Trans. by Shoghi Effendi. London: Baha'i
Publishing Trust. 2nd ed. 1961.)
its prophecies, promises, warnings and pronouncements are
veiled. This figurative language of Scripture is a touchstone
by which God distinguishes and rewards the truehearted and the
sincere. It yields up its real significance not to human
learning, as is commonly supposed, but to an open and
unprejudiced mind, to a pure and devout spirit which seeks the
truth for love of God.
. . . Man He writes can never hope to attain unto the
knowledge of the All-Glorious, can never quaff from the stream
of divine knowledge and wisdom, can never enter the abode of
immortality, nor partake of the cup of divine nearness and
favour, unless and until he ceases to regard the words and
deeds of mortal men as a standard for the true understanding
and recognition of God and His Prophets. (p. 3)
'Abdu'l-Baha,, expounding this truth, spoke often in the West
of the profound importance, and the difficulty, of reaching
a true interpretation of Scripture and urged His hearers to
learn from the errors of the past. He expressed Himself, for
instance, in the following words to a Bible class in New York
I have been informed that the purpose of your class meeting
is to study the significances and mysteries of the holy
scriptures and understand the meaning of the divine
testaments. It is a cause of great happiness to me that you
are turning unto the kingdom of God, that you desire to
approach the presence of God and to become informed of the
realities and precepts of God.
It is my hope that you may put forth your most earnest
endeavour to accomplish this end; that you may investigate and
study the holy scriptures word by word so that you may attain
knowledge of the mysteries hidden therein. Be not satisfied
with words but seek to understand the spiritual meaning hidden
in the heart of the words. The Jews read the Old Testament
night and day, memorising its words and texts, yet without
comprehending a single meaning or inner significance; for had
they understood the real meaning of the Old Testament they
would have become believers in His Holiness Christ, inasmuch
as the Old Testament was revealed to prepare His coming. As
the Jewish doctors and rabbis did not believe in His Holiness
it is evident that they were ignorant of the real significance
of the Old Testament. It is difficult to comprehend even the
words of a philosopher; how much more difficult it is to
understand the words of God.*
How far the Christian Churches have wandered from a true
understanding of the Gospel may be judged from the argument
of this book. We are living in the Day of God which Christ
announced and for which He prepared men's souls; and yet not
one among the illustrious learned leaders of the Churches has
proved capable of recognising it or has troubled to examine
the claims of Baha'u'llah when these were drawn to his
How disastrous may be the results of trusting to human
learning rather than to a spiritual mind and a pure heart
* The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Vol. II, pp. 454-5,
(Chicago: Baha'i Publishing Committee, 454-55.)
For a true interpretation of Scripture may be seen from the
fate of Jewry after its rejection of Jesus Christ, or from the
humiliations of the Christian Church when it turned away from
its Lord on His return.
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The Bible is a study in world-history. It is man's first
effort to write a complete history of the human race from its
beginning to its climax in the unification of all peoples and
the establishment of a universal religion.
Though it was written so long ago, compiled under unfavourable
conditions, though as a history it is neither exhaustive nor
comprehensive, nor orderly in form nor scholarly in tone and
manner; yet in spite of its handicaps it presents to the soul
of man the most sublime and magnificent conception of the
whole human race as being in reality one family whose history,
however complex, is a continuous movement towards a single and
all-sufficient consummation. Perhaps nothing will fully
satisfy the heart and mind of thoughtful men save this vision
of the oneness of the life of the race, and of an Eternal Will
guiding all things towards an event in which an ever-advancing
civilisation finds at last completeness and fulfilment.
Here in this ancient book, come down to us from primitive
times and offered through the Authorised Version in befitting
language of matchless power and beauty, this conception is set
forth with a clearness and a force which has not weakened
through the ages and with a fullness of meaning which no'
epoch has been so well able to appreciate as ours.
The early chapters of Genesis are universal in their
outlook. They take a general survey of the whole earth and of
all its inhabitants. They tell of Adam and Eve, the
progenitors of the whole human race, and of the three sons of
Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth ('of them was the whole earth
overspread'). They describe how 'the whole earth was of one
language, and of one speech' until God confounded men's
language and 'did scatter them abroad upon the face of the
whole earth'. In the twelfth chapter the field of the
narrative narrows, the action no longer embraces the whole
human race, but centres henceforth round the fortunes of one
people only, 'the chosen people' as they called themselves,
the Hebrews, the descendants of Abraham. For a period of some
two thousand years the history of mankind is seen through
Jewish eyes and written from the Jewish point of view. The
sacred narrative tells of the vicissitudes, the glories, the
tragedies of the Hebrews. It traces their growth from a single
family to a great and opulent nation and follows them through
their subsequent decline and humiliation. But it does not give
them this extraordinary prominence for their own sake, because
of any native superiority of theirs to the rest of mankind.
The Bible is not a nationalistic work. No one reading it could
imagine the Hebrews enjoyed their distinction because they
were really greater or dearer to God than any other people.
Their failings are not extenuated; their conduct is not
idealised nor eulogised. Their iniquities are frankly
displayed. Their unworthiness of their blessings is
mercilessly exposed. They call forth from the prophets the
most scathing and tremendous denunciation's. They occupy in
the Bible a central place because they are, for a time, in an
especial sense the trustees of God's universal purpose. The
main subject of the Bible
does not change in the twelfth chapter of Genesis, nor is the
great theme ever forgotten. The thread of universal history
runs through Jewish history. The tides of world progress lap
for a time round the shores of Palestine. At the very
beginning of the Jewish race, in the wording of the call of
Abraham, this universal outlook and purpose is proclaimed, 'I
will make of thee a great nation. . . and in thee shall all
families of the earth be blessed'. If through the
exclusiveness of the Jew the oneness of the human race and of
its progress is in any passage of the Bible obscured, it is
never forgotten by Him who is the inspirer and true author of
the Word of God.
Had the Jews accepted Christ, they might still have retained
a central place of responsibility in the history of mankind.
The universal theme might still have been carried forward in
the New Testament through Jewish history as it was in the Old
Testament. But the Jews failed. They knew not the time of
their visitation. The children of the Kingdom were cast out
and others inherited their privileges. After the Crucifixion
the Jews no longer march in the van of universal history. They
fall aside from the main current of human progress. The cause
of religion is advanced and the purpose of God goes forward -
- but not through the agency of the Jews. The high trusteeship
they had held so long is forfeited and passes from them to the
Gentiles. In the latter part of the New Testament the action
spreads rapidly outward from Palestine to Ephesus and
Macedonia and Athens, to Corinth and to Rome, till finally in
the closing chapters of the Bible it embraces in prophetic
survey the entire earth and all the peoples that inhabit it.
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. . . and I . . . saw
the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of
heaven. . . And the nations of them which are saved shall walk
in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their
glory and honour into it. . . In the midst of the street of
it. . . was there the tree of life. . . and the leaves of the
tree were for the healing of the nations. (Rev. 21 and 22.)
Christ emphasised the universality and the unifying purposes
of His Message. He bade His disciples 'go teach all nations'.
He predicted that a certain deed of kindness done to Him would
be remembered wherever the Gospel was preached in the wide
world, and He announced that the close of His Age would not
come till His Teaching had been carried to the ends of the
earth. He said, moreover, that His Gospel was to soften and
remove those estrangements among men caused by differences of
race, nation, tradition or culture; it was to harmonise men's
hearts and induce a sense of fellowship; and some day the
whole of humanity would be gathered into one and become as a
single flock of sheep under a single shepherd.
The Bible sketches world-history; but the spirit in which this
theme is conceived and the point of view from which it is
written are not those taken by the modern historian. The Bible
regards the history of the human race as being from beginning
to end in reality one and single. However rich in incident may
be the onward movement of mankind, however complex it may be
in action, however manifold in interest: though men may have
lost their bearings altogether, though they may have forgotten
their original unity and may have no conception
of the ultimate goal towards which they are being carried,
nevertheless the course of their progress flows all in one
direction and is guided by a principle of unity which persists
through all divisive influences and sooner or later will make
its dominant power manifest.
The first picture presented in the Bible is that of human
unity in its simplest form: that of a single family. The last
picture is that of a unity manifold and universal in which all
kindreds and tongues and peoples and nations are gathered into
one and unified in the enjoyment of a common worship, a common
happiness, a common glory.
The great problem which, according to the Bible, confronts the
human race in its progress is that of advancing from the
barest, baldest unity through a long experience of multiplying
diversities till ultimately a balance between the two
principles is struck, poise is gained and the two forces of
variety and unity are blended in a multiple, highly developed
world fellowship, the perfection of whose union was hardly
suggested in the primitive simplicity of early man.
The history of the whole human race, of all its tribes and
nations and languages, from the beginning to the end, is --
declares the Bible -- one story.
But it is not one simply because the earth is one home, or
simply because there is one root human race, or because the
incidents of all history tend to a common consummation: nor
for any reasons such as these alone. World-history is a single
story for yet another and a far deeper kind of reason. World
history has a single theme, and it is controlled throughout
by a single divine thought. All things that occur -- whatever
be their date and where ever be the scene -- are in some way
related to that theme; and on the nature of their relation
depends their value or their lack of value, their being
constructive or destructive, progressive or retrogressive.
World-history at its core and in its essence is the story of
the spiritual evolution of mankind. From this all other
activities of man proceed and round it all other activities
revolve. The Bible makes the tracing of this evolution its.own
special subject and writes world-history from this and from
no other point of view. It sketches the spiritual development
of the human race from its earliest infancy to the time of its
maturity and represents this movement as being the main and
central current of advancing civilisation and of all human
progress. The life of humanity may be regarded in other
aspects; world-history may be written
from other points of view. The Bible itself is in a measure
a general history, deals with many social and institutional
changes, records the economic and political growth of the
Hebrews, and is a storehouse of information on ancient customs
and modes of life. But it treats these matters as incidental,
as forming the environment or being the expression of the
major theme of spiritual expansion and advance, and it asserts
that this treatment answers to the real truth of things and
preserves the just proportions of the world as God made it.
Man's spiritual evolution is the true business and meaning of
his existence; on their connection with this all other matters
depend for the reality of their value. Any picture of human
life which does not preserve this perspective but represents
something else (such as wealth or conquest or reputation or
pleasure or comfort or culture) as having in itself an
independent importance is based on a misunderstanding and
bears witness to untruth.
The Bible contains no word for evolution; yet evolution is
its subject from beginning to end. The theme of evolution
supplies the plot of the story, giving to it direction and
purpose. It not only imparts to the long narrative continuity,
massiveness and a sublime simplicity, but also reveals the
intellectual coherence and order which are present in the
unfolding of the grand redemptive design of God.
All men everywhere fall within the scope of this vast
evolutionary movement: no one is left outside at any time
anywhere. All men are alike and of like worth in that they are
sprung from one root-race, are of one spiritual origin, and
are held inescapably within this world-wide spiritual process.
All the events of history, however
multifarious, are when taken together items in a plot of
universal spiritual development which, however complex in
appearance, is in its inmost essence and its purpose utterly
Devotees of literalism may proclaim the defects they have
found in the Bible, and warn us that it has for us today no
value as history or as philosophy or even perhaps --
throughout great lengths of it -- as religion. Yet the
spiritual mind will in humility seek instruction from those
inspired seers of old, will wonder at their strong faith, at
the glory of their vision, at the depth and height of that
understanding of the ways and the wisdom of God which by sheer
spiritual power they attained. If we can divine their secret,
if we can interpret our modern knowledge in terms of the
Bible, what hidden wisdom may not be revealed to us, what
victory and dominion may not be within our reach!
To read the Bible as a single work, using one part to
supplement or to illumine the meaning of another, is to
perceive that it sets forth creation as a continuous process
of evolution which works up through the material realm to the
spiritual and which moves forward without break or cessation
or any stated end.
All that is hereafter to appear is in the beginning present
to the thought of the Eternal Creator, and in that sense
creation is carried through immediately to its completion by
the fiat of the word of God. But all that is, and is to come,
is not made manifest in this actual realm at once. At first,
it is hidden. 'Hidden that it may be revealed', as the Lord
Christ said. It is involved in the first act of creation; for
with God there is no incompleteness: it is mysteriously folded
away, as a tree with its branches, leaves and
fruit is folded within the seed from which it is to spring.
At the foundation of the world all that the future contains
already exists before God on the timeless plane of eternity.
His full purpose in every detail is at the beginning defined,
through however.many degrees of slow development God may will
it to unfold its length on this lower level of time wherein
man dwells.
Evolution is -- in the Bible -- a mode of creation chosen by
God, and it is not shown as ever reaching a final end. It was
in movement through all the period when the Bible was being
written and when the narrative of the Bible was being enacted:
it is in movement now. The grand denouement of the Bible, the
Descent of the City of Peace, does not bring it to a close;
but opens a new and more glorious chapter of civilisation
before mankind. By slow degrees God moulds simple matter into
complex forms, and by slow degrees he grants to man the
privilege of self knowledge and the power which flows from it.
The spiritual evolution of man is the main topic and interest
of the Bible. But the narrative does not open with this topic,
nor yet with man himself. It tells of the antecedents of man,
and of the preparation that was made for him before he
appeared upon the earth in person. It tells of the material
world and of the lower kingdoms, animal, vegetable, mineral,
of the sun and the moon and the stars
, of Original Chaos and Old Night out of which Kosmos was
formed. It tells how the natural world was brought into being
step by step, stage after stage, by successive commands of the
Creator and through a regular and ordered process.
Age after age through unnumbered millenniums the
Creative Will working in the immensities of space brought at
last into being this earth, and with an unwearied, unhurrying
patience wrought matter into form after form, each form more
complex, more expressive than the last, till at length there
was evolved the form of man.
To man, God gave dominion over the earth and all that it
contained, 'over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the
air and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth'.
He was to subdue the earth and to establish his conquest over
For man was the last and consummate work of creation. He was
the foreseen goal and end for which the heavens and the earth
had been made and to which the whole process of evolution had
led up. So perfect was his form, the last and finest flower
of evolution, that God could breathe into it as into no lower
form a breath of His own being. He could make it a tabernacle
of the Holy Spirit. In it might dwell one like unto God
Himself, endowed with the fullness of the divine perfections.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our
likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over
all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth
upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the
image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
. . . And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man
became a living soul. (Gen. 1 and 2.)
God therefore needed to go no further in His work of moulding
simple matter into structures. He did not
need to make any spiritual mirror to reflect more perfectly
the image of His beauty. Evolution had achieved its purpose,
and God laid by His task.
But in the same moment He assumed another task. He rested from
one labour to enter on another yet more exalted and wonderful.
For if in the birth of man upon the earth material evolution
ends, in that same birth spiritual evolution begins.
At this point the Bible takes up its main subject. All that
had been accomplished by the Creator before was preliminary;
and the Scripture summarised it in two pages
-but twelve hundred pages are not enough to tell of the work
which God began when He rested from the creation of the
material world.
Henceforth God deals with man and with none other. The waters
and the grass and the trees and the fowl and the whales and
the cattle no longer play the most prominent part in the
narrative. They sink for ever into the background. They become
the environment of man and no more. God does not now give
commands to the firmament nor to the waters, nor bestow His
blessings on the fishes and the fowls, bidding them be
fruitful and multiply. His command and His blessings
henceforth are for mankind. But man is not regarded as akin
to the lower animals. He is immeasurably superior to them. He
is altogether apart and distinct from them and that which
makes him thus distinct is the subject of scriptural history.
Man is a spirit. It is spirit which distinguishes him from an
animal and constitutes his manhood. He is in touch with
spiritual forces. He inhabits a spiritual realm. Any evolution
or destiny that awaits him is in its nature spiritual.
Connected on his animal side with that material world
through which he has come into being, he is in Scripture not
less closely connected with the spiritual world wherein God
dwells. When the name of man is first mentioned in the Bible
this twofold nature is affirmed, and it is assumed throughout
the rest of Scripture. Often it is expressly stated, as in
Eccles. 12:7, Then,' says the Preacher speaking of man's
death, 'shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the
spirit shall return unto God Who gave it.' "The spirit is
willing,' said Christ, 'but the flesh is weak.'
Creation in every phase is in Scripture an act of the spirit
of God -- 'the spirit of God moved upon the face of the
waters.' (Gen. 1:2.) 'Thou sendest forth thy spirit they are
created. . .' (Ps. 114:30.) 'Then saith the Lord God. . . he
that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it;
he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to
them that walk therein.' (Isa. 62:5.)
But man, because of his unique spiritual status, has a special
kind of dependence upon that spiritual power. In times of
stress and crisis or for any supreme achievement, whether the
need be spiritual or merely physical, a human being who is a
true servant of God will receive special aid from on high. The
Spirit of the Lord will help the faithful in battle.
It was not in his own strength that David slew Goliath, nor
that Gideon delivered the Israelites from the Midianites --
'the spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon. . .' (Judges 6:34.)
It is the spirit of the Lord which inspires the prophet: 'the
Lord God, and his spirit, hath sent me,' says Isaiah (Isa.
48:16); and Ezekiel likewise says, 'The hand of the Lord was
upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord. . .'
(Ezek. 37:1); St. Paul (1 Cor. 2:10 ff.)
states that it is through spiritual communion with
the Spirit of God that the believer is enabled to discern and
understand spiritual things which cannot be understood by the
natural man.
But this is not to say that primitive man in his original
condition is in a spiritual sense a complete and finished
product. Though he is made in the image of his Maker, though
he is inspired by the Spirit of God and is pronounced by God
to be very good: he is with not less definiteness and emphasis
shown as being in fact very bad. 'Ye then being evil,' said
Christ of mankind, assuming human wickedness as a thing for
Scripture throughout bears witness to the manifold infirmities
and imperfections of men. Adam and Eve both sinned. Their
eldest son murdered his brother. Of the days of Noah it is
written that 'God saw that the wickedness of man was great in
the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his
heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that
he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his
heart.' (Gen. 6:5-6.)
Though the Bible never modifies its original statement that
man is made in the image of God, yet almost every book
contains the record of sin and utters laments over its
Over against everything that is fair and true and noble stands
that which is base and false and cruel. 'The conflict between
good and evil rages incessantly; the issue seems always
uncertain. Again and again the hosts of darkness triumph. The
fierceness of the struggle does not lessen with the passage
of centuries. To the end, sin does not relax its grip on men's
hearts. Secular literature can hardly contain
a more terrible indictment of the depravity of human nature
than that written by St. Paul in the first chapter of his
Epistle to the Romans.
Men may be made in the image of God, yet (as the Bible
presents it) the history of the tribes and peoples and nations
of the world, of the Hebrews and the Gentiles, reflects at no
time the order and harmony and the happiness of a divine
world. It is a tale of turmoil and vicissitude, of struggle
and trouble, of sorrow and loneliness and penitence, of bitter
shame, and hopes lost and hearts broken.
Men dream of heaven and peace, they long for a better order
of things than that which they have made. Prophetic promises
of a great felicity, of a sure deliverance from the fears of
life, and from its discords and its wrongs and its despairs,
buoy up the fainting hearts of the generations and grow with
the passing centuries more full and clear. But no nation ever
walks with a whole heart in the ways of God or in the sunshine
of His presence; by the multitudes happiness is only seen if
at all in faint and far-off glimpses; the joys of heaven and
the sweetness of divine love are the privilege of a few rare,
outstanding souls. After two thousand years of specially
vouchsafed training the children of Abraham commit the most
heinous of all the crimes recorded in the Bible and bring down
upon their heads the most awful of all punishments. At the
close of the whole narrative, the everlasting promise of a new
heaven and a new earth, of the subjugation of evil and the
world-wide reign of truth and justice, remains still a distant
prospect, deferred beyond the end of the Christian Era and
only to be fulfilled when the power of the Father reinforces
that of Christ returned in glory.
But the spiritual eye perceives that in spite of appearances,
Evil throughout the Bible history never can meet Good on its
own ground. Evil stands on a lower level; it lacks the reach
and the substantiality of the power of the Good. For all its
display of force and for all the suffering it causes, it is
not in reality positive. It is in the nature of a shadow
which, however deep its darkness, is only a shadow, dependent
for its existence on the absence of light. The darkness cannot
go forth and challenge the day. The glory of heaven is never
stained by the glooms of hell; God's dominion is never
challenged. The final defeat of Evil, which from very early
days is promised to man, is assured from the foundation of the
world by the very constitution of things. A happy ending to
the history of man is from the beginning assured by the might
of the One Sovereign Will who brought all things into
The postponement of the triumph of virtue and of the Descent
of the New Jerusalem is not due to any lack of power on God's
part, nor to any arbitrary fiat. The seeming delay is a
necessary part of the creational process. Evil does not
intrude itself upon the divine scheme from some outside
source; it falls within the divine scheme. From the first, it
is foreseen and aforedoomed. It represents an original lack,
a shortcoming, which man has to rise out of and to outgrow.
The long postponement of humanity's happiness is, for all the
sorrow it entails, recognised by the spiritual mind to be a
bounty of the All Merciful flowing from His love and His care
for His creatures.
Man's upward movement out of spiritual incompleteness has its
parallel and antetype in the story of the gradual
creation of the world in the six days. Until material
evolution reached its climax in the birth of man, imperfection
reigned everywhere over land and sea. Fishes existed and
ferns, and reptiles and birds, and the like; but there was as
yet no form capable of registering the higher spiritual
impulses; the purpose for which creation had been undertaken
was unattained and undiscernible; and it was not until long
ages after the body of man appeared, that the meaning of the
process at last became evident and material evolution achieved
a perfect result.
The period of world history covered by the Bible corresponds
to the five and a half days in the creation story before the
appearance of man. As there was then everywhere on the planet
material imperfection and incompleteness, and nothing else;
so likewise has there been spiritual imperfection and
incompleteness on the planet from the time of Adam onward.
Shortcomings, errors, ignorances, sins have been rife and have
played their evil part at every stage of man's journey. The
goal, the end, the purpose of man's spiritual creation has not
yet taken visible shape and the hour is not come for God a
second time to rest from His labours.
But humanity is not at a standstill. Humanity is on the move.
As in distant ages material evolution swept forward in ordered
triumph till at length it achieved its crowning work in man,
so thereafter has spiritual evolution been sweeping
irresistibly forward all the world over to achieve its purpose
of developing a regenerate race of men who shall indeed be as
children of God.
Man from the beginning is made in the likeness of God and
his essential manhood never changes. But this likeness at
first is rudimentary. It is no more than an embryo.
Only as the tree with its spreading boughs and its leaves is
to be found in the seed from which it springs, is God's image
to be found in the heart of the natural man. That heavenly
image, before it can realise itself, needs to unfold and grow,
and man's own will is assigned its share , in that task of
development. Not until that growth of the
inward spiritual life is complete and until the fullness of
its power has been reached, is man worthy of the name of man.
'The New Testament, to emphasise the two moments i
of crisis in the spiritual growth of man, uses the striking
figure of a twofold birth. Man is created as on the Sixth Day,
the fine flower of material evolution endowed already with
divine potentialities. He is born the natural man. When his
latent powers are developed and he becomes equipped for a
larger life, he enters the higher realm of the divine world -
- he is born anew, becomes a new creature, the spiritual man.
The human race passes through a development analogous to that
of the individual. It is born in one state; and before it can
come to its own it must be born again into another state. It
is created in a condition of spiritual weakness and
imperfection, and it must pass toilsomely through many stages
of development before it can know its powers and achieve its
destiny. The New Jerusalem is the figure under which the
Second Birth of humanity is spoken of. A great part of the
Apocalypse tells of the dreadful period of world-travail that
precedes that birth. And those glorious passages which close
our Bible, unparalleled for ecstasy and beauty in all our
literature, are an effort to depict the exaltation and the
wonder and the rapture and the joy and the everlasting
blessedness that await the
nations and the peoples of the earth when through the gates
of spiritual attainment they enter into the presence of their
Father and of the Lamb.
World-history has no other denouement than this of the final
Self-Revelation of God to His creatures. All events lead up
to this and find their meaning in this, and apart from this
they have no abiding value and lead to no abiding result.
This is -- so teaches the Bible -- the supreme originating thought
involved in creation, and it informs the whole creational
process throughout.
The spiritual evolution of man's soul is in this different
from the evolution of his body, that it is not automatic nor
unconscious, but demands from him directed effort. If he would
advance, he must add his willing co-operation to that
evolutionary urge which impels him on his upward way.
Spiritual life, both in the case of men and of nations, is
likened by Jesus and others in the New 'Testament to a growing
seed. The comparison for ever repudiates any idea of
rigidity, fixity, immobility or stationariness in religion;
but its positive meaning cannot be that man's mental progress
is, like that of a plant, involuntary and effortless (men know
otherwise); rather it is that man's spiritual nature is a
living, growing thing which develops in an orderly manner
continuously till it reaches fruition.
Jesus stated that 'the kingdom of God is within you', and
likened its increase to that of a tiny 'mustard seed' which
grows into a tree so big that birds sit in its branches
-a comparison which illuminates the advance of spiritual
knowledge both in the individual soul and in the soul of the
human race.
More than once He compared spiritual truth to a seed which is
sown in the heart of man and which grows according to the
nature of the soil in which it falls. Truth and the human
heart are by nature akin, and in a pure heart truth will grow
apace and bring forth fruit abundantly;
only some impurity and defect in the soil (such as worldly
distractions or love of mammon) can prevent its growth.
The Baptist, emphasising this same process of spiritual growth
in a larger field, compared the course of the Mosaic
Dispensation to the growth of a crop of corn; when the
allotted time had passed and the season of spiritual fruits
had come, Jesus was sent with the power and authority of God
to gather in the harvest of souls. As the Mosaic Dispensation
passed away to be followed by another and a greater
Dispensation, the Baptist warned the people of his time that
though they might not know what was happening this was their
Day of Judgment, and there was one among them gathering the
fruits of Mosaism whether good or bad, a Divine Reaper 'Whose
fan is in his hand and he will thoroughly purge his floor,
and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will bum up the
chaff with unquenchable fire'. (Matt. 3:12.)
In this simple but conclusive figure the Baptist taught that
the Era of Moses was a set period in an evolutionary process,
not unlike the allegorical 'day' in the account of material
creation. Mosaism had its sowing, its time of maturing, and
in the end its hour of reaping. The same evolutionary process
was then begun again and carried forward a stage further by
another Master. Jesus used (on more occasions than one)
exactly the same figure with reference to His own Dispensation
as John had used in referring to that of Moses. He likened it
to good seed which He had sown in men's hearts but which was
mixed by the evil one with tares; and the two would grow
together to maturity till in the fullness of time the season
of harvest came round: then God would send His
angels and they would reap the whole field, which was the wide
world, and would cast away and burn what was waste and
worthless and would gather the righteous and true-hearted into
the treasure-house of God.
Again the Baptist likens a Dispensation to a tree which,
having increased to full size and borne its fruit and cast a
seed from which another like tree may spring, is cut down to
give room to a younger growth.
In the great allegory of the world-consummation of man's
evolution given in Rev. 22:2, the Tree of Life is described
as having attained the fullness of a universal fruitage,
bearing twelve manner of fruits and yielding these every
month, and as shedding from its leaves healing over all the
nations of the wide earth.
But the need of moral effort is stressed in Scripture even
more than the thought of growth. For practical results, man's
special duty is to make a well-directed effort: if he does
this, spiritual growth will follow of itself Old Testament
and New echo with exhortations from prophets and teachers
calling men to abandon ease and negligence and gird themselves
for endeavour -- 'seek' 'strive', 'labour on', 'quit you like
men, be strong and of a good courage', 'fight the good fight,
lay hold on eternal life', 'be instant in season and out of
season', 'be ye doers of the word and not hearers only', 'in
your patience ye shall win your souls', 'he that endureth to
the end shall be saved'.
God must be sought if He is to be found; the truth
must be striven for if it is to be realised.
If 'thou shalt seek the Lord thy God,' said Moses
thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and
with all thy soul.' (Deut. 4:29.)
'Ask, and it shall be given you,' said Christ; 'seek, and ye
shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. . . Strive
to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will
seek to enter in, and shall not be able.' (Matt. 7:7 and Luke
Results are proportionate to the effort made. God 'will render
to every man according to his deeds 'for 'he is a rewarder of
them that. . . seek him.' (Rom. 2:6; Heb. 11:6.)
This giving of battle, this seeking and striving, this
patience and endurance takes in practical life many shapes and
brings man face to face with many different problems. The
Bible offers in the course of its narrative illustrations of
a thousand diverse demands that duty may make on men. It gives
particular and exact advice in many special cases. But
whatever the circumstances may be and whether the emergency
be great or small, the purpose and the essence of the effort
that is required remain the same.
The object of all this struggle and endeavour is to draw out
those high powers which lie folded away and hidden within the
soul of every man as a rose is folded within the bud; to let
the Divine Image in man's heart shine forth in its splendour;
to become (so far as a human being may) godlike; and thus to
co-operate with the evolutionary Force, with the spiritual
impulse imparted to mankind by God.
That Heavenly Image is no material likeness; it occupies no
space. It is a reflection of God as God is revealed to man;
it is a reflection of those properties which are what we know
of God, such as love, compassion, kindness, generosity, mercy,
pity, faithfulness. These in their sum comprise our vision of
God, and they are the elements
which make up the Image graven in the human heart. The aim of
man's effort is to bring these attributes into action, to use
and exercise them, to give them strength and lead them on
towards maturity. By doing deeds of goodness, by meditating
on the perfections of God and holding communion with Him, man
is enabled by degrees to develop divine characteristics and
to become in a measure godlike. Thus he fulfils his
possibilities and reaches up to his full moral stature.
The attributes of the Most High are the originals of the moral
virtues for which Christ commanded men to strive. It is from
this fact the virtues derive their authority and their eternal
values. By cultivating them man makes himself like God. Christ
said, 'Be ye perfect even as your
Father in heaven is perfect', and there is no means of
achieving this except by walking in the strait way of
righteousness. Christ said, 'Come unto me', and no one can
accept this invitation except by acquiring the divine
attributes, for Christ was the express image of the Father
and all the perfections of God in their fullness were manifest
in Him. The obligation to obey the injunctions of Christ, to
be kind, generous, forgiving, compassionate, devoid of
prejudice or partiality, peaceable, is not something imposed
by a ruler's decree or an external power; it proceeds from
man's own nature. The constitution of man's spiritual being
imposes upon him the strict demands of. duty. He is morally
responsible before God, but he is also morally responsible to
himself: He is compelled in the end to be his own judge. The
strict and authoritative commands which Christ gave were given
in the name of God Himself; but they were given, too, in the
name of man's own heart. The laws of righteousness which He
taught were
the laws of man's own being, and the godliness which He bade
men develop was already as a potentiality laid up within them,
'hidden that it might be revealed'.
The divine image in man is part of himself, it is indeed his
true self, the essence of his existence, the soul of his soul.
In purifying his heart that this likeness may shine forth in
its beauty and in its truth, he is not only drawing near to
God but is also becoming himself, is finding himself: he
passes out of spiritual weakness and infancy into maturity.
His faculties and endowments, aided by the law of growth,
establish among themselves a balance and symmetry and order;
he is happy and wins that rest unto his soul which Christ
promised to those who came to Him. If through neglect he does
not cause the heavenly qualities within to expand, the loss
is his. He stunts himself, he limits himself; he chooses
infirmity instead of power.
The combination of faith and works on which the New Testament
so vigorously insists is not a strange or arbitrary demand.
Good deeds in fact spring from those heavenly attributes --
those promptings to kindness and compassion -- which God's
love has planted in the human heart: were it not for that
inborn goodness no man could be moved to a good deed. But
without faith he cannot know what those attributes are, nor
whence they come nor what they mean nor whither they lead. Man
cannot by reason alone know what God is like; and since he
cannot know what God is like he cannot by reason alone know
himself since he is made in the image of God. For true self
knowledge, self understanding, faith is needed as well as
reason. Without faith man cannot comprehend the nature of
moral principle nor its foundations; he cannot
appreciate the force of its imperatives nor the extent of its
rewards and its punishments. Without faith he cannot be moved
by the highest and most exalting of all motives, love of God
for God's own sake.
As the development of God's attributes produces within the
soul harmony and order and peace, so it produces harmony,
order and peace in the community. The divine virtues are the
cement of society. Without them the disruptive influence of
human passions and of the struggle for existence cannot be
kept in check. Qualities such as unselfishness, pity,
kindness, fidelity, forbearance, forgiveness develop a sense
of solidarity and establish concord. Under their influence men
become ever more ready to relieve, to help and to uplift one
another and labour with increasing earnestness to build a
social order in which even justice shall be done, wrongs shall
be redressed and the spirit of fraternity shall become the
rule of life. Compassion and goodwill create an environment
which itself aids their own further growth. And since these
high qualities descend to earth from heaven and come from a
God who pours forth His love universally on all mankind alike
and sends His sunshine and His rain on the just and the
unjust, therefore their unifying power will never be exhausted
nor reach an end till they have spread out and embraced the
whole world. Compassion and goodwill among men, if they be a
true image of their originals in God, will know no partiality
nor any bound or limit; they will reach everywhere regardless
of all barriers.
God is for ever one. His attributes do not change; for from
the beginning they are perfect and any change would be towards
imperfection. He is eternally the same. There is for all
members of the human race one ultimate spiritual
ideal. All men come forth from the one God; and to the one God
all must return. When Christ said 'Be ye perfect as your
Father in heaven', He made the same one Being to be the common
ideal of all men, and held up the same Spiritual Perfection
to be the object of all men's aspiration and the goal of all
men's effort.
Christ proposed the recognition of God's oneness as the
centre, the harmonising force of world unity. He brought to
its clearest definition a system of thought which is implied
throughout Scripture. He gathered the whole of human life
around the throne of God. He based -- as Moses and the Law and
the prophets had done before him -- civilisation on ethics,
ethics on spirituality, spirituality on the effort to develop
those godlike properties which God made to be the very self
of the human soul. Happiness, order, peace, progress, all are
to be the result of spiritual growth and moral effort. Any
scheme of social amelioration or national advancement which
neglects divine law and leaves aside faith and righteousness
must lead to disappointment. This is the basis of that sublime
practical truth to which the great teachers of the Bible so
often and so vainly bear witness, that in spite of
appearances, in spite of illusions which tempt and deceive,
success and prosperity cannot be gained in any high degree nor
maintained for any length of time except when in alignment
with the divine purpose. On the contrary, since God's mercy
and forbearance though great are not without limit, any
attempt to traverse or thwart God's will must bring spiritual
retribution and will assuredly involve a guilty nation in
disappointment and disaster.
The language of the prophets is not our language and
their point of view is not that of the modern world. But it
is not difficult to see that their counsels and warnings have
a scientific and logical aspect, and express principles of
divine government which are as active today as they were in
the days of the Jewish kings. In the Book of Isaiah it is
If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the
land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with
the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isa.
And again:
Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on
horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in
horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto
the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord! (Isa. 31:1.)
Or again :
. . . thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said,
None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted
thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else
beside me. Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not
know from whence it riseth: and mischief shall fall upon thee;
thou shalt not be able to put it off: and desolation shall
come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know. (Isa.
Long before Isaiah, Moses had declared to the Israelites the
same truth and had given a warning (which they did not heed)
. . . thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that
giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his
covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day.
And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the Lord thy God,
and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them,
I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish.
(Deut. 8:18-19.)
And long after Isaiah Jesus summarised the principle in His
pronouncement: 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his
righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.'
The whole Bible gives voice to God's demand from man of this
increasing spiritual effort, but no one else sets the demand
so high nor insists upon it with such sternness as the Lord
Christ. Every other effort, He urges, and every other aim is
to be subordinated to this. Every other loyalty is to be
postponed to it. None is to allow any danger to deter him nor
any difficulty to discourage him. If need be, pain,
persecution, shame and even death must be faced: at any cost,
the effort to walk in God's way and to follow after
righteousness must be maintained. No other effort is so richly
rewarded; and neglect of this effort brings its own dire
So Jesus spoke. And in the light of that law of spiritual
evolution which in this age we begin to understand we are able
to appreciate the wisdom and the pity which prompted His
commands and His warnings.
But if a man's volition plays a part in his spiritual growth
and he is required to participate in his own evolution, he
remains always in the position of a servant and a dependent.
His responsibility, while strictly enforced, is limited. His
power lies wholly within a narrow range. It is not his own
through any dignity or original right of his: it is freely
conferred on him by the Creator who had He pleased might have
withheld it, as He withheld it from lower realms of
creation-from plants and planets. Man did not by his
superiority wrest any share of the evolutionary power from God
and use it according to his own human desire. What he has, God
gave him, and God having entrusted him with this power insists
that he use it aright.
Discussing spiritual evolution in its largeness, the Bible
proves that the part of man is humble in the extreme, and that
nothing is so likely to stultify and disable him, to bring him
to failure and unhappiness, as the delusion that he is an
independent agent and can take the laws of life and progress
into his own hands.
Throughout the Bible God stands for ever supreme, and man
never is (nor ever can be) more than His creature and His
servant. Man's ignorance of this truth and his revolt against
it are the signs of his immaturity and the causes of his
frustrations. As he reaches the height of his powers he
becomes more and more humble and
submissive, and attains increasing power and happiness through
an ever-growing efficiency in service.
It is not in the power of the race to originate the idea of
its evolution, to design the path along which this evolution
will proceed, the end to which it will lead or the forces that
will start the process and keep it in movement till the
predetermined end is reached.
Nor is an individual any more able to create his own power to
grow, or able to arrange for the method or the goal of his
growth. In this respect he is no more free than is the seed
of corn to which Christ compared him. 'The seed's growth is
an orderly process, first the blade then the ear, then the
full corn in the ear; and spiritual growth is in like manner
according to an imposed and inviolable law.
The law under which his spiritual development is directed and
the purpose to which it points are made by Another Mind than
his. The force on which he draws continually and by dint of
which alone he moves is derived from a Greater Will than his.
He is for ever in a position of complete dependence, the child
of a hidden and everlasting power, the subject of a law which
he cannot question nor change. He may take all he has and is
for granted and live in a dreamhouse of illusion; but no
amount of ignorance or self will can alter the fact or the
degree of his servitude. There is no way of deliverance for
him from that great movement into which he was born and within
the control of which he must eternally remain.
Because God is supreme and man's whole duty is to serve Him,
the Bible represents that man's proper approach to truth and
life, to all knowledge and all
action, is through religion. It sets forth evolution in its
religious aspect. Any enquiry after truth which begins by
separating man from God is wrong from the first, is the
essence of falsity. The notion that man is independent, that
he has the prerogative of laying out the paths of history and
of civilisation, the privilege of doing whatever seems best
to his own will and his own desire is born of arrogance and
is utter illusion.
Evolution indeed from its beginning in the distant past to its
completion in the distant future is nothing more than the
Revelation of God's purpose for mankind. What is being evolved
was first created by God, then infolded by God, then unfolded
to man's knowledge by God: the plan, the process and the
substance of the process are all from God. The story of the
spiritual evolution of man from his infancy to his maturity,
from Genesis to the close of the Apocalypse, is the story of
the continuous progressive Self Revelation of God to man. The
first creation of man, when God engraves within the being of
His creature His Own Image, is itself a high act of Self
Revelation; and the whole movement of evolution that follows
is in every part and aspect a manifesting of the unity of God,
of the completeness of His dominion, the perfection of His
love, the beauty, the glory and the beneficence of His
everlasting and inviolable Purpose for mankind.
Man's part therein is not of his own making. It is permitted
only. He is at best a servant. God's command precedes all
man's activity, and all that man in any circumstances can do
is either to obey or to disobey -- he does not really initiate
or originate anything : all the beginnings are with God.
Man's ability, too, to co-operate in his own evolution depends
on the extent and the accuracy of his knowledge of God, and
the measure of his knowledge is the measure of his progress
towards spiritual maturity.
The Bible, therefore, as a practical guide-book to man in his
evolutionary journey extols in the most impressive images, in
the strongest language, and with the utmost earnestness the
eternal and unqualified supremacy of God. Its first counsel
and its last is that men shall trust God, shall study His law
and obey His will. The worst mistake possible for man to make
is to pass out from under the law of God and commit his future
to the misguidance of his own phantasmal imagination.
God is revealed as One, Eternal and Infinite, unchanging,
pervading and sustaining all existence. His throne rests upon
equity and justice; the heavens declare His greatness and all
the nations behold His majesty, but He Himself is hidden from
man's face in clouds and darkness, and remains above the reach
of human knowledge.
The whole earth and its peoples are subject to Him and none
can stand against His might or question His authority.
. . . beside me there is no God.
Turn to me and you are saved, all ends of the earth! As I am
God and God alone, I swear by myself. . . that every knee
shall bow to me, and every tongue swear loyalty. (Isa. 45:22-
23.) . . . the rules of my religion I send forth to light up
' every nation. (Isa. li. 4.) I now appoint you to bring light
to the nations, that my salvation may reach the world's end.
(Isa. 49:6.)
Woe to the man who quarrels with his Maker -- man a mere
potsherd of the earth! Does the clay ask the potter what he
is doing? does what he makes tell him he is powerless?. . .
And would you question me about the future? Would you dictate
to me about my work? (Isa. 45:9, 11.)
Again and again God asserts He has His plan for mankind both
in large and in little, and that none can frustrate His
purpose nor bend Him from His determination.
As I have planned, so shall it stand, as I have purposed, so
shall it be. . . So is it in my purpose for the world, so I
stretched out my arm against all nations. ' The Eternal's
purpose who can disannul? His outstretched arm, who turns it
back? (Isa. 14:24, 26, 27.)
From of old I am God, and from henceforth the same; no one can
snatch out of my hand, and what I do none can reverse. (Isa.
He foresees and fore-ordains the developments of history and
according to His pleasure foretells the same to His prophets
and to mankind.
I am God and there is none like me, I who foretell the end
from the beginning, and from of old what is to be, saying, 'My
purpose shall stand, I carry out whate'er I choose. . . I have
said it, I will do it, I will carry out my plan.' (Isa. 46:
It is He Who raises up nations and empires, Who
guides and protects them, and if they prove unworthy abases
them at a time and in a manner decreed by Him.
It is He Who summons a Prophet (Isa. 6:8-9) and (Jer. 1:5 and
10) even appoints him before he is born into the world:
Before I formed you in the womb, I chose you; ere ever you
were born, I set you apart; I have appointed you a prophet to
the nations. . . here and now I give you authority over
nations and kingdoms, to tear up, to break down, to shatter,
to pull down, to build up and to plant.
He loves righteousness, justice, mercy and for these gives
nations and men rich rewards. But He hates evil, oppression,
unfaithfulness and hypocrisy, and for these things and such
as these He brings on men condign punishment:
. sinful nation, . . . Why will you earn fresh for holding on
in your revolt?. . . (Isa. 1:4-5)
He is not satisfied with the pretence of loyalty and devotion.
Your sacred festivals? I hate them, scorn them;. . . you offer
me your gifts? I will not take them;. . . No more of your
hymns for me! I will not listen to your lutes. No, let justice
well up like fresh water, let honesty roll in full tide. . .
(Amos 5:21-24.)
. . . I instruct them by my words, this precept shines out
plain: love I desire, not sacrifice, knowledge of God, not any
offering. (Hos. 6:5-6.)
He 'reveals His inner mind to man' and man must meet Him in
frankness and sincerity.
Knowing the future and loving His creatures He warns men
beforehand of coming retribution that they may avoid it.
Listen-it is the Eternal speaking -- be not too proud to
hearken; do honour to the Eternal, to your God, before the
darkness falls, before your footsteps stumble on the twilight
hills, before the gleam you look for turns to a dead gloom.
If you will not listen, then I must weep in secret for your
pride, mine eyes must stream with tears, for the Eternal's
flock borne off to
exile. . . (Jer. 13:15-17.)
For God, though He will not condone disobedience, is 'full of
compassion and gracious, slow to anger. . .' (Ps. lxxxvi. 15.)
He is a shield to His people, their refuge and help in
trouble; He is their shepherd, the mother bird guarding its
young, the Host and Friend of the faithful, the Father of the
fatherless. (Ps. lxviii. 5.)
For all His transcendence He dwells with the poor and lowly.
I sit on high, enthroned, the Majestic One, and I am with the
crushed and humbled soul, to revive the spirit of the humble,
and to put heart into the crushed. (Isa. lvii. 15.)
His last word in dealing with His creatures is always of mercy
and forgiveness :
. . . he pardons all your sins, and all your sicknesses he
heals, he saves your life from death, he crowns you with his
love and pity. . . (Ps. 103:3-4.)
And though His prophets in fierce and terrible language
announce the fierceness and the terror of God's vengeance, yet
with one voice they all predict that at the end when His
people's guilt is purged God's bounty will bestow an ultimate
and final restoration.
The witness of the New Testament to God's greatness ,
though the same in spirit, is even more intimate and full than
that of the Old. God's consciousness encloses all existence
and He does not withhold Himself at any time from anything
that He has made. The least -- regarded objects of nature, the
lonely flower of the mountain-side, the raven, the despised
sparrow, all receive His bounty and are under His care in
their life and in their death. He watches over every human
being, making provision for his needs and numbering even the
very hairs of his head. Nothing escapes His knowledge; nothing
is too minute for His attention. He is the giver of health,
the healer in sickness, the remover of disabilities. So
closely does He identify Himself with men that whatever men
do to one another for good or ill is recorded in heaven as
though done to Him. 'The most casual, the most trifling deed
of kindness to a believer is never unremembered nor unrewarded
by God. On Him man depends not only for his daily sustenance
and his physical well-being, but for his moral and spiritual
growth; and for the energy of his
intellectual life. The mental powers of man, and even his
freedom of will, are subject to the good pleasure of God. It
is He Who opens or closes the ears of men to the teaching of
Christ, and none can come to Christ except through the
initiative and the bidding of the Father. He knows what is in
man and reads the unuttered thoughts of the individual and
foresees the individual's future acts even though these be
quite unknown and incredible to the individual himself He
foresees the changes of history, the wars and tumults of
nations in the far future, and likewise the great convulsions
or the frustrations of natural processes-the earthquakes, the
famines and the like -- that lie in wait for humanity.
Not in this earth-life only, but in the worlds that lie beyond
the grave, it rests with God to determine the lot and destiny
of His creatures. No constraint is put upon Him. No other will
than His own determines His decision. No other opinion is
weighed or taken. To God alone it belongs to punish men or to
reward them. He has established the law of justice as the law
of the universe, and from His judgment there is here or
hereafter no escape and no appeal. Men may kill the body, but
there the power permitted to them ends. God can admit to
heaven or cast into hell. He is indeed the all-terrible. He
is truly to be feared -- He, and no other. And whoever has
learned to fear God becomes thereby immune from every other
To command and to create are the prerogatives of God. There
is none to share these with Him. Man through the very nature
of his existence is altogether the creature of God, and no
course ever is or can be open to him save that of service to
his Lord. Even if this service were (what it cannot be)
utterly perfect -- even if it were never for a
moment qualified, if there were no hesitancy or error or
incompleteness in it, it would then only meet the requirements
of justice and fulfil the bare demands of duty.
In an age when the idea of progress was unfamiliar or unknown,
when reverence for law was not what it has now become and when
the exercise of arbitrary power was regarded as the
prerogative and proof of kingship, Christ revealed quite
clearly the evolving purpose of God, so that in His light we
can see it throughout the Bible moving by an orderly process
regularly and irresistibly forward through millenniums. God
designed, decreed and executed as He saw fit, but always
according to a principle of justice which evolution not only
enforces on mankind, but also embodies in its own operation.
'The whole life of the race and of every member thereof from
the dawn of human history to its dusk, lies within the scope
of this vast Progress. The onward drive of the purpose of God
is irresistible. Evil lifts its head in ignorant rebellion,
but if they who seek their own ends, not God's, rally to its
banner they can but stunt their own growth and are left at
last to wail and gnash their teeth upon themselves for the
opportunity which they have forfeited and which can
never come again.
For all his freedom man cannot check the development of God's
purpose nor hide himself from the foreknowledge of the Ancient
of Days. That spiritual evolution of humanity which is slowly
taking shape among the peoples of the earth is in truth
mysteriously the manifestation in time and in space of
realities previously hidden in eternity, already created and
already existent in heaven in the mind
of God.
The events of history are not a series of haphazards or
impromptus in which God meets emergencies as they arise. The
power which carries evolution through to its preordained end
is the power which in the beginning created man. It knows
neither fluctuation no limitation; it is altogether
independent and all sufficient; and in spite of human
rebellion it effects in its own way and its time a purpose
laid down before the foundation of the world.
The Bible reveals that the creation of the material world was
carried through by stages, in a series of separate periods
each complete in itself and each following the
And God said. . . And the evening and the morning were the
first day.
And God said. . . And the evening and the morning were the
second day.
And God said. . . And the evening and the morning were the
sixth day.
The spiritual evolution of man from his First Birth in Genesis
to his Second Birth in the Apocalypse is revealed as being
likewise carried through by stages, in a series of separate
periods, each complete in itself and each following the same
The Bible does not state what is meant by the word 'Day',
beyond a clear indication that it had not a literal but a
symbolic meaning; for the sun which makes the material day was
not created till the fourth of these periods. But it gives a
clear account of the division of the evolutionary movement
into great Eras, all having certain
characteristics the same and having definite epochs and
moments of crisis. These Eras are generally known as
Dispensations, but they are sometimes spoken of in Scripture
by the same name as the Days of creation. 'Your father Abraham
rejoiced to see my day,' said Jesus, referring to His
Dispensation. And the time of the end, the time when all
things are made new and the Father and the Lamb come to dwell
among men is often called the Day of the Lord, meaning the
Day when Christ shall reign in the Glory of the Lord God.
The comparison of Christ's Dispensation to a Day is evidently
appropriate because He likened Himself to the sun. 'I am the
light of the world,' He said. Everything was, save for His
illumination, in darkness; and those who believed in Him
became children of the light, able to reflect on others the
light they gained from Him, their Sun.
The time of the Second Advent is, for the same reason, fitly
likened to a Day, for the Father and the Son give it light.
'The city had no need of the sun.' Besides the Dispensation
of Christ and that which is to follow His Second Advent in the
power of the Father, there are definitely referred to in
Scripture three other Dispensations. One is that of Moses,
which is narrated from its beginning to its close. Another is
that of Abraham, the Father of the Faithful, which is briefly
and distinctly sketched. The third is that of Noah. Christ
compared the phenomena of Noah's Advent to those which would
occur at the future time of His own Second Advent: 'As it was
in the days of Noe.'
coming of the Son of Man in the clouds of heaven, and would
be oblivious of everything except their own mundane pursuits.
Each Dispensation opened a New Covenant between God and man;
each covered a term of years and was succeeded by another
Dispensation. Each was inaugurated by a Master Spirit, a man
who was specially called by the Most High to the task, and who
after his death, continued to be the supreme sole guide and
governor of his people so long as the Dispensation endured.
Of the four Supreme Mediators named in Scripture, three are
connected especially with Palestine and all arose in the East.
It would seem as if God not only ordained certain Great Souls
to play the lead in the drama of evolution, and arranged the
times of their manifestation and occultation, but that He also
designated certain lands for certain purposes. He appoints not
only the time of the Prophet's birth, but its place also, and
the place where his prophetic work is to be done.
Palestine has been a holy land for some four thousand years
not to Jews and Christians only but to Muslims also. Its
holiness does not attach to the inhabitants. The people who
dwell in it are not holy: the Jews were called by the Baptist
a generation of vipers. The land itself, the Land of Promise,
is holy, because it is associated with the life and the labour
of so many of God's Holiest Ones, and because it was selected
by Him to be the scene of so important a phase in the
spiritual evolution of mankind.
If Palestine occupies throughout the Bible a central place,
the whole progress of redemption (back to mythic days and
forward to times visible only in prophecy) is
shown as belonging to the East, to the one continent of Asia.
Europe and Africa come into the record: Egypt in especial
seems to be a region of privilege, for not only the Hebrew
people but the three outstanding figures of the Bible,
Abraham, Moses and Christ, were all sojourners there, and
attention is drawn in the Gospel to the prophecy 'Out of Egypt
have I called my son'. (Matt. 2:15.) The West as a vast tract
is likewise mentioned. But Europe, Africa and the West take
a secondary position as recipients of a spiritual illumination
which first arises in the Orient. The Second Coming itself
(like earlier Advents) is expressly compared by Christ to the
lightning which 'cometh out of the east. . . and shineth even
unto the west'. (Matt. xxiv. 27.)
World-history outside the borders of the Bible testifies, as
many have observed, to the same fact, and seems to corroborate
the Bible principle of the primacy of the East in the
origination of spiritual teaching. No world-prophet has ever
arisen except in Asia. There is no world-religion extant which
was not first proclaimed in Asia. There is nothing recognised
as a Holy Scripture which did not make its appearance in Asia.
Whatever contribution the Western world may have made to human
progress and spiritual evolution, it has not. contributed a
Scripture, a Religion or the Founder of a Religion.
As God chooses for a particular reason this land or that
according to His wisdom and man may not alter or modify the
divine decision, so, too, with the great epochs and crises of
the evolutionary process. It is for God the Father to
determine times and seasons. Man cannot choose the dates when
Dispensations begin or end, nor by his own knowledge or
calculation discover what these dates shall
be. Joseph, who through his saintliness was in touch with the
eternal plane, foretold the appearance of Moses: '. . . God
will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto.
. .' (Gen.1:24.) But he could not indicate name or date. Moses
foretold the Advent of his Successor but made no suggestion
as to the time of His coming. The Scribes and Pharisees with
all their learning and parade of holiness were so far from
having any idea as to when the Messiah would appear that they
could not even recognise the time when it arrived; and the
Jews are still looking forward to a date which is nearly two
thousand years behind them. God ordains the times and seasons
of history, but does not communicate them to men nor to
angels; nor does Scripture give any guidance to men in this
respect, nor open a way into the wisdom of God. The
Dispensations of the Redemptive Scheme are not of the same nor
of like length : that of Moses was twice as long as that of
Abraham, and no clue is given in Scripture as to the reason
for this difference. Epochs and Eras are ordered by God: man's
part is to recognise the transitions when God brings them to
On these whom God appoints as the Suns of the Days of
Spiritual Creation, or Lords of Dispensations, He bestows
spectacular power. They stand out in greatness above all other
men. The two thousand two hundred years and more of Hebrew
history narrated in the Bible are dominated by three heroic
figures, and the earlier period of pre-Hebrew history is, in
like manner, dominated by the earlier Covenant-bringer Noah.
The Dispensations of these four Leaders are treated in a very
unequal manner. The Age of Moses is sketched in its full
length,and from its inauguration in Egypt to its close in the
epoch of Jesus Christ. The four books of Exodus, Leviticus,
Numbers and Deuteronomy are parallel to the four Gospels of
Christ, Joshua to the Acts of the Apostles, the Prophets to
the Epistles, and perhaps the Apocalypse of Daniel to the
Apocalypse of John. But there is nothing in the New Testament
to correspond to the historical books of Judges and Kings and
Samuel and Chronicles and Ezra and Nehemiah. Only two
generations are covered by the New Testament narrative, and
the rest of Christian history is written elsewhere than in the
canon of Scripture. But the Bible record shows that as Christ
in His time overshadowed the peoples, so did Abraham and Noah
likewise in their time. Each was supreme in his own Day over
the people committed to him, and was remembered and venerated
long ages after his Day had passed away. Of Moses, God said
to Aaron: 'He shall be to thee as God.' Moses' essential
superiority to any other seer or saint or prophet in his time
is emphasised in God's rebuke to Miriam and Aaron. (Num.
God spoke and said:
Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord
will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak
unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is
faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to
mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the
similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were
ye not afraid to speak against, my servant Moses? And the
anger of the Lord was kindled against them. . .
Even Isaiah and his brother prophets did not equal
themselves with the Lord of their Era, nor do more than
elucidate and apply the meanings of his Revelation.
Moses, prophesying the coming of the Messiah, compared his own
status to that of Christ: 'The Lord thy God will raise up. .
. a Prophet. . . like unto me. . .' (Deut. 18:15.) The same
attribution of divine honour to Moses appears in prophecy at
the close of the New Testament, when the Redeemed chanting in
heaven the praise of God are thus described:
And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the
song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works,
Lord God Almighty. . . (Rev. xv. 3.)
Not until Christ did anyone arise to give a New Teaching
instead of that of Moses and to take to Himself the authority
which once had been Moses', as fifteen hundred years before
Moses had taken the Torch of Revelation from Abraham. Day
succeeds Day. Each Day has one Sun; and there is no light to
challenge that of the sun.
But to the power even of the greatest of these prophets there
is one definite limitation. Spiritual evolution does not move
forward through any coercion of the wills of men. God requires
that men of their own volition shall co=operate with Him. He
does not substitute His will for their wills, nor does He, so
to speak, drive their development onward by any output of main
force. He educates and trains them little by little and
measures His requirements to their growing strength of mind
and heart. 'Those Supreme Prophets, therefore, who are His
Agents and the Masters of Evolution, are limited by the
of the people. They cannot put a bushel of truth into a pint
measure. They cannot teach more than their hearers can learn.
The fact that Moses revealed only elementary religious truths
does not prove that Moses knew no more, but that the people
were unwilling and unable to receive more. The scope and range
of his teachings, if we had an accurate record of them, would
indicate the moral and spiritual condition of the twelve
tribes at that time, but it would not suggest at all the
extent of Moses' wisdom.
Jesus frequently lamented over the people's slowness of
understanding, the feebleness of their faith; and this sorrow
of His was not caused by any personal impatience, but by His
sad knowledge that they thus forfeited many blessings and
happinesses He might have bestowed upon them had they been
worthy to receive them. It is written of Him once expressly,
that 'He could there do no mighty work because of their
unbelief', and on another occasion, when conversing with His
disciples, towards the end of His life, He said, 'Other things
I have to tell you but ye cannot bear them now.' In all the
speeches and addresses of Moses and of Christ there is no sign
of an overbearing attitude of mind nor of a desire to browbeat
opposition or to startle or stun the imagination of their
hearers. In spite of the power they exercised and the divine
authority they claimed, both of these Mighty Ones were
personally gentle and humble. Jesus was meek and lowly in
heart. A disciple who knew and loved Him well described Him
as one who 'when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he
suffered, he threatened not. . .' (1 Peter 2:23.) And of Moses
it is written: 'Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the
men which were upon the face of the earth'. (Num. 12:3.)
With scrupulous care Jesus respected the personal independence
of everyone He addressed. He gave everybody full liberty of
choice, even when by this He was Himself involved in danger.
He knew well that Judas would betray Him; yet Judas was a man
of great spiritual possibilities, and Jesus gave him every
opportunity, admitting him to the intimacies of discipleship
and treating him with every kindness to the end: the use that
Judas made of the privileges was an act of his own unfettered
will for which the responsibility was entirely his own.
The simplicity and quietness with which Jesus appeared among
men, like that of Moses' appearance long before was due to the
demands of the same great principle. Had His Advent been
accompanied by signs and wonders on a great scale, the faith
and sincerity of the people would not have been tested. There
would have been no room for freedom of choice. Men's minds
would have been appalled; their judgment dethroned; their
imagination enslaved; their wills coerced to accept and to
submit to an evident proof of superhuman power. Every human
being (good, bad and indifferent alike), Caiaphas, Herod,
Pilate, the Scribes, the Pharisees, the fickle mob, the
Gentiles, along with Peter and James and John, would all have
been reduced to a common level of moral surrender and of
compelled subjection to the New Revelation. Whereas, to
recognise a Lord of the Ages in a humble artisan from Galilee,
or a young shepherd from the mountains of Midian, would be a
proof of intuitive vision and sincerity of heart. Through this
freedom of choice, the Cause of God has brought among men
division, combat and confusion. No man can refuse or escape
from the responsibility of decision: he must be on one side
or the other, with God's Cause or against it. Whichever side
he espouses, the choice is his own. God does not coerce him
to join the army of light nor yet prevent him from joining the
army of darkness. If we read of Pharaoh that God hardened his
heart, that is to say, God could have softened it but did not:
God permitted Pharaoh to make his own choice.
Men are judged by God according to the attitude they adopt to
His Cause. If they choose to forward it, Christ compares them
to white-fleeced sheep, calls them His children or children
of light, and pronounces blessings on them. If they oppose it,
He likens them to black-fleeced goats, and warns them that
darkness and retribution will be their lot.
Social classifications made on the ground of wealth, rank,
learning, appearance, reputation and the like, such as the
world uses, are in the Bible regarded as of small importance.
The true basis for division is spirituality. There are in
God's eyes two kinds of men only -- the spiritual and the
unspiritual. Between these two groups an internecine struggle
is waged for ever. One unceasing relentless battle continues
down the ages without intermission. The participants change
with the generations: the battle changes not. Abel, Isaac,
Jacob, Joseph, Joshua, Elijah, Nathan, David, Job, Isaiah and
Amos, Rachel and Hannah and Huldah, and Peter and Paul and
Mary Magdalene: and over against them, Cain and Pharaoh and
Agag and Ahaz and Ahab and Jezebel and Ahaziah and Herod and
Pilate and Judas and Caiaphas -- always, in every age, there
are men and women to be found who, of their own choice, range
themselves on either side to carry
on the everlasting conflict. And though the members of each
army seem a strangely mixed and highly heterogeneous company,
yet they are regarded by God as all alike either in eternal
glory or eternal shame.
The Kingdom of God is not shown in Scripture as progressing
in its own strength or pursuing in history a smooth and even
course. Its chief supporters are not always the mighty and the
great, the cultivated and the learned. The Divine Cause moves
forward through tumult and uproar, through bitter struggles
and discouragement and defeat and recovery and indefatigable
perseverance. Its advance is secured through the aid of brave
and earnest human souls, through the efforts of men and women
(most of them poor, obscure, unknown), who in their hearts
faithfully accept the decree of the Beloved, and submitting
to his good pleasure with deeper and ever deeper humility,
contend steadfastly against their own self will and the
misdirected wills of those who, through self love, would
thwart the unfolding purpose of the Creator. From Genesis to
Revelation, the Bible is a moving picture of this great
battle. The issue hangs always in the balance. 'There is never
a definite decision, a conclusive victory. Again and again
Truth and Righteousness are worsted. The combat grows fiercer
with the centuries, and evil in the New Testament seems to win
its extremest victory. John the Baptist, 'a prophet and more
than a prophet' is beheaded; Jesus Christ, the most glorious
Figure of all, the beloved Son of God, is Himself brought to
destruction and crucified. Even the apostles sink for a moment
into despair.
Such are in history the fruits of man's free-will. Such are
the results of the respect which God's Messengers pay to
the independent volition of men. Because men are free,
therefore in the world the Kingdom of God is neglected,
ridiculed, scorned, opposed, perverted. Because men are free,
God's Holy Ones are assailed and martyred. But though the High
Prophets, such as Jesus or Moses,
thus withhold the use of personal force or any form of
compulsion; though they, themselves, submit to violence and
wrong and show forbearance and gentleness under every
provocation, yet they have a reserve of power which enables
them to accomplish fully the work committed to them by God.
They cannot be resisted. In spite of every difficulty, in
spite of the unworthiness of the world, in spite of the
incapacity, the vacillation, the faithlessness of the people,
they do not fail. They are the Lords; the Divine Agents of the
Spiritual Evolution of the race; and this Evolution is an
integral system ordained by the Almighty. The power of the
whole is behind its every phase, its every movement. Ignorant
and foolish men can bring about their own undoing; they cannot
frustrate the purpose of God. Every Dispensation is charged
with ample power to fulfil its part and function in the grand
Creative Scheme of God. And the Bible reaches its stupendous
climax when Jesus Christ announces that the triumphant
conclusion of that Scheme is now near at hand, and when St.
John's apocalypse unveils in prophetic narrative a celestial
picture of the victories of God and the exaltation of
righteousness and justice to the throne of the world.
The world which Jesus was to master and to make anew ignored
Him in His lifetime. The one authentic account of His work is
contained in the New Testament, and from its record we see
that the power afterwards manifested in full measure made from
the first an immediate impression on His contemporaries. It
astonished and pleased the open-minded and the receptive; it
alarmed the ecclesiastical authorities who feared it might
supplant their own. It did not cease nor weaken with His
death, but deepened and extended till it became the
constructive principle in Western civilisation.
Jesus' possession of this power is the more remarkable because
He was himself meek and lowly in heart, compassionate and
loving; and the moral elevation which He produced among the
nations is associated with the gentler virtues of pity and
forgiveness, of charity and self sacrifice. There is nothing
in His environment to explain His extraordinary influence. It
was not due to the qualities of His time and country, nor to
the intellectual climate in which His human lot was cast. He
did not owe it in any way to His compatriots; on the contrary,
He exerted it in spite of their denial and opposition. Though
in Him Hebrew tradition was lifted to world-wide eminence and
glory, yet in His lifetime He was but an obscure member of a
despised and down-trodden people; He had neither wealth nor
social position nor any material advantage to
use for the advance of His cause; His public career lasted
less than three years and He confined His activities to the
declaration of a purely spiritual truth.
From the beginning it was the singular power of Jesus'
teaching which impressed those who heard Him. He had power
over their minds and hearts, power over unclean spirits, power
over even the winds and waves. The authority with which He
spoke was quite new to them. (Matt. vii. 28-29.) It was
altogether different from that of the Scribes, who would spin
academic elaborations that had no penetrating or illuminating
quality whatever. St. Matthew notes that 'the multitudes were
astonished at his teaching: For he taught them as one having
authority, and not as their scribes.' St. Luke comments, 'And
they were astonished at his teaching; for his word was with
authority,' and again, '. . . they spake together, one with
another, saying, What is this word? for with authority and
power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out.'
(Matt. 7:28-29; Luke 4:32, 36.) Whence this power came or what
was its nature none could tell. All men felt it; but none
could account for it. Some said it came from God, others that
it came from Beelzebub, all agreed it was beyond their
experience, beyond any earthly explanation. We who read in the
Gospels the record of His spoken word, can ourselves still
feel in His utterance something of the quality which
astonished His contemporaries. If when spoken it was unlike
the manner of the scribes, when written it is unlike that of
poet or orator, and has a force and winningness altogether
unique. There is no special beauty of form or of diction. His
teaching -- all of it, even the most illustrious and moving
parts of it, the Sermon on the Mount,
for instance, or the Parable of the Prodigal-is artless,
spontaneous, conversational. There is no dogmatic assertive
eloquence such as might overbear and carry away an audience.
There is never a straining after effect, nor any desire to
impress. He promised to those who learned of Him that they
would find rest unto their souls; and we find that quality in
the nature of His utterance. It breathes serenity, and
radiates the calm of assurance and certain knowledge. When one
contemplates any of the processes of the natural world, the
coming of spring, the growing of the corn, the unfolding of
the leaves, one marvels at so great a demonstration of power
with so little an appearance of effort. So it is with the
teaching of the Lord Jesus: His power seems almost effortless.
All the generations have felt that power and they feel it
still -- a power poured resistlessly forth from illimitable
reserves. But no saint, no poet, no philosopher, has ever
produced the effect that He produced, or spoken as He spoke.
No man can imitate that power nor set up a like power against
it. It is incommunicable and above explanation. It is Jesus'
own, and remained for ordinary men a secret and a mystery.
Not only did His friends, the open-minded and well-disposed,
feel it. The Rabbis, too, felt it, and hated Him because of
it. They quickly realised He had a power which they had not.
They perceived at once that His challenge to their prerogative
was formidable. His ministry had hardly begun when they
resolved that this teaching could not be allowed to continue.
This young man must be suppressed. It was envy pure and simple
which aroused the opposition of the priests. It was envy which
hardened them against Him, which induced them to seek to
entrap Him, to conspire against His life. When
by a dark intrigue, before He had been teaching three years,
they compassed His death, the unjust judge who sentenced Him
to the cross knew well His accusers 'had delivered him for
Nothing could prove more decisively or dramatically the
personal forcefulness of Jesus, nor the immediate impression
of prevailing power which He made on shrewd observers than the
fact that a poor and humble Galilaen so quickly filled the
great and learned of the land with envy and alarm, made even
the mighty Caiaphas tremble on his ecclesiastical throne, and
impelled the trembling hierarchy to combine in official and
public action against Him, not only in violation of ordinary
justice, but also in violation of the specific provisions of
their own established law. But they who felt Jesus' power most
strongly were those who knew Him best. His disciples opened
their hearts to His influence, and knew by a continuous
personal experience how penetrating and constructive this
power was. They found, too, that this power did not depend
upon His presence. The authority of an earthly conqueror,
Napoleon or an Alexander, ceases with his life and the empire
he has won is assailed and divided and soon passes utterly
away. But Jesus foretold that His disciples would be able to
do greater works after He was taken from them than they had
done while He was with them. Till His death was accomplished
He was -- He said -- straitened: His influence was confined.
When He was dead and they were deprived of His presence, this
influence seemed to be poured upon them in a greater flood of
generosity, as though the clouds had passed away and the
spiritual sunshine shed its rays upon them in the fullness of
uninterrupted splendour.
However great the tributes in the Gospels to the power
manifested by Jesus, those in the epistles and the apocalypse
are greater still. Paul emphasised always that the Christian
message was one of power and imparted power: one remembers
'the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power'. (I Cor.
4:20.) 'God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness but of power.'
The properties of Christ which are kept in prominence are
prevailingly those of victory, might and dominion -- of terror
and of awfulness. He is the Lord of Glory, the Prince of the
kings of the earth Who has made believers priests and kings
unto God. He is the Saviour, the Redeemer, the Judge of all
men, and in His hands are the keys of hell and death. He is
the effulgence of the glory of God, the image of the Divine
Essence, and upholds all things by the word of His power. He
is the power of God and the wisdom of God, through Whom God
made the world, and He now sitteth on the right hand of the
Majesty on high in the heavenly places, far above all rule and
authority and power and dominion and every name that is named,
not only in this world but also in that which is to come.
(Hebrews. 3; Eph. i. 19.)
'This power of Christ has from the beginning been the constant
Christian tradition and vital Christian belief through the
ages. It was this power which within not many years of His
death carried the tidings of His dominion farther to east and
west than any Roman eagles ever penetrated. It was this power
which has founded and developed a vast and mighty
civilisation, which through many centuries inspired artists
and statesmen, poets and legislators, which uplifted the
ideals and improved the character of men and of nations, which
lifted the names
of His humblest disciples to a place of honour above the
proudest kings. But for that benign and creative power the
history of the West would have been incalculably different,
and whatever is to be found in it of justice and kindness and
goodwill would be wholly absent from its lampless and
melancholy pages. Jesus was Himself, in His lifetime, the most
lowly and simple of men, content with poverty, and not
desirous of exerting personal lordship over His fellow-men.
He ruled by service and self sacrifice. Yet in all the glory
and majesty accorded to Him in after ages, in all the
extension and the magnificence of His dominion, there is
nothing that goes beyond His own assertion of His true
dignity, nothing that surpasses the homage and reverence which
with His Own lips he urged to be His due. Identifying Himself
with the cause of God on earth, He demanded of everyone
immediate, exact and complete obedience. No other claim was
to qualify or to come before this claim to man's service. When
He said 'Follow me' the disciple arose, left all and followed
Him. 'He that loveth father or mother more than me is not
worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me
is not worthy of me. And he that doth not take his cross and
follow after me, is not worthy of me.' (Matt. x. 37-38.)
'Whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath,
he cannot be my disciple.' (Luke xiv. 33.) He was the Judge
of all. It was His right to decide finally the moral worth of
men's lives and to determine their destiny: there was no
appeal, not even to God the Father. All things had been
committed by the Father into the hands of the Son, and this
trust had been given Him not as to a Saint, but as to one who
was more than man. He was the sole revealer of God to man.
Only through Him could men see God or come to God. And yet,
however much men loved Him and however ardently they strove
to follow Him, they could not understand or appreciate or
measure Him as they could one of their own fellow-men: He was
different -- not wholly beyond our reach, but assuredly beyond
our grasp: 'No man knoweth the Son save the Father.' The
utmost knowledge we may attain of Him is too little, is less
than the truth, and however close to our hearts we may hold
His perfections, His essential being is beyond our ken, and
we belong to a lower order of existence than He.
These superhuman and divine claims were borne out in a way,
subtle but unmistakable, by the manner of His approach to
Truth. He said once that He was the Truth. His intellectual
attitude was unique. No one in the Graeco-Roman culture which
under His influence was so soon to pass away, and no one in
the civilisation which He was to found, ever assumed towards
Truth the position assumed by Him, nor taught in the manner
in which He taught: He did not present His philosophy of life
in the same sort of way as did Socrates or Plato or Aristotle
before Him, nor Seneca nor Kant nor any other after Him. He
was noted from His childhood for His wisdom. As a boy He was
strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and as He grew in years
He was described as increasing in wisdom. He said once (in
effect) that His Gospel, and the preparation for it by the
Baptist, were decreed and ordered by a transcendent wisdom
which the faithful, though not perhaps the children of
disobedience, would be able to appreciate and approve.
The body of His teaching, regarded in its completeness, is
marked by a sublime intellectual coherence and forms a
single self consistent whole. His followers learned from Him
to prove all things, hold fast that which is true. He Himself
taught the multitudes to think, to use their reason, to watch
the phenomena of Nature and consider how they would find in
it rational ground for trust in God's care for humanity. He
expressly directed His disciples, when He gave them the task
of spiritualising the pagan souls of men, to be wise as
serpents; and the gifts He promised with which they would
overcome the superstition and secularism of the world were
eloquence and wisdom. But He did not teach in the manner of
one of the Wise Men of Judaea or of Greece. He did not present
conclusions from experience or from observation or from
learning. The first quality noticed about the authority with
which He spoke was its originality. It was quite different
from anything the people had ever heard, and they had heard
much. Jesus did not begin with the known, the familiar, the
accepted and draw inferences from it. He began with the
unknown and on His own authority revealed it. He did not
present a chain of argument. His aim was not merely to
convince people's minds; it was that, but more also. It was
to uplift character and produce action.
Though He taught men to seek the truth with open minds and
fearless hearts, He did not Himself appear as a truth seeker.
He did not speak as one who while He spoke was seeking the
truth, nor even as one who having previously sought the truth
had by enquiry found it, and was now able to present what he
had found. He spoke, on the contrary, as a man who knew the
truth by direct perception. The truth lay open before Him. He
was one with it-was identified with it: as He said, He was the
truth. He was able to give the instantaneous perfect answer
to fit whatever occasion might present itself He brought the
white light of the whole truth to bear on any question. He was
the intellectual light of the world which shines forth in its
fullness on all objects. If one traced back to its source any
shaft of daylight that falls on the earth, one would reach the
sun; in the same way, any pronouncement of Jesus followed back
to its origin would lead to the very heart of truth. Thus He
speaks not merely with complete conviction but with mastery,
with serene certainty. In this, no thinker or teacher in the
whole range of His Dispensation approaches Him. His mental and
moral attitude towards the doubts and difficulties that
afflict us, is that of one outside them: He may share them
with us through His sympathy, but He does not experience them.
He dwells always in the light. He looks on our problems as one
in heaven might look upon the earth. He is above them,
external to them, His gaze surrounds them. He does not speak
ex cathedra but ex caelo. We aspire towards heaven; we descry
an ideal far above us in the skies. He brings the ideal down
to us and imparts it as a command. His knowledge of truth is
not such as reason ever could arrive at. He is not a teacher
and educator merely in a human sense. He is also a revealer
of something which reason never could discover and of the
existence of which, perhaps, it might never think. Jesus
taught some truths which had been deliberately hidden by God
from man, and were now disclosed by degrees, as God pleased
and by God's initiative. Man could never find them out by his
own uninspired effort. The Gospel shows that further truths
remain yet hidden from men, to be revealed in the future, and
it hints at the nature of these truths. But these
truths never can be known without divine initiative and divine
Christ not only reveals new realms of experience and knowledge
otherwise inaccessible, but He rouses to activity dormant
powers in man, higher faculties as yet unused and undeveloped.
He enlarges human consciousness. He shows creative power as
the Word of God. He lifts to a new and loftier plane men's
conceptions of life and duty. He opens new purposes in life,
new fields of human endeavour. And by the exercise of such
powers He proves Himself to be, as Christians have always held
and as He Himself asserted, a Vicegerent of the Lord of
Evolution, a Being altogether apart from anyone else in His
The majesty of Christ, His stupendous claims and the evidence
of His power which the passing centuries brought, dazzled the
imagination of the Christian public, and there arose by
degrees a view of His place in the history of religion which
may have suited well enough distant days of ignorance, but is
not tenable in modern times. Thinking men know it to be
mistaken, but they have not yet found an alternative which
does not seem to detract from the dignity of Christ and to be
inconsistent with His claims.
Speaking broadly, the Christian community has not believed and
does not now believe in a continuous and world-embracing
scheme of Revelation in which Jesus Christ played a part.
The existence of such a vast divine Design might in the past
have been denied; and perhaps the idea of it would have been
to many without value or meaning.
Nor has the Christian community believed that the Bible
teaches a progressive system of Revelation which began with
the creation of man and has been constantly guiding the race
forward towards the attainment of a spiritual maturity. It has
not believed in the gradual spiritual growth of the whole
human race down through the ages, aided by a succession of
heavenly Messengers.
No doubt with the thought of magnifying the position
of Christ, and certainly with the effect of magnifying its
own opinions, it has suffered Jesus of Nazareth to eclipse
utterly all other Teachers; it has regarded His spiritual
teaching as exhaustive and final, and has attributed to Him
a personal immortality of some such corporeal kind as the
pagans of old might have attributed to one of their gods like
Such conceptions as these, though not indeed contained in the
formal creeds of Christendom, have come down through tradition
and are generally held, and either implied or expressed in
much of the greatest Christian literature.
But their seeds were sown by men in less enlightened times
than ours, and they flourished in the Dark Ages. 'They are
not taught by Christ. They are now difficult to reconcile with
known truth. They do not add to the magnificence of Christ's
station, and they are seen to be derogatory to the character
of Almighty God.
They are parallel to the views which the Hebrews in Jesus'
time held about Moses. For the scribes taught that Moses'
Revelation was complete and conclusive
, that it would not receive nor need development and that a
formal profession of Mosaism was enough to exalt a man above
the rest of humanity. Because they accepted Moses in this
sense, therefore they rejected Jesus. Mosaism, they thought,
was enough, was final; why should they listen to a new
teaching? This narrowness, this lack of openness of mind, we
condemn in them as a heinous sin, and it led them to the
appalling crime of martyring Jesus. And if the record of their
error be written for our learning, it contains a warning
against being in religion self opinionated and unprogressive.
A narrow view of Revelation has for us greater difficulties
than for them, and there is for us even less excuse for
holding it. What knowledge had they compared with ourselves
of the vast extent of the globe with all its seas and lands,
of the number and variety of the peoples that inhabit it, of
the civilisations and religions that had sprung up and
flourished and perhaps already decayed in that great continent
of Asia in which they dwelt; what did they know of the
antiquity of the earth and of humanity, what conception had
they of such truths as progress and evolution?
A wider knowledge has brought us a severer responsibility.
We who compose universal histories, who study comparative
religion, who can take a far broader and more discerning view
of the ancient world than was possible for those who
themselves lived in it, we, thus highly privileged, have no
excuse at all for prejudice or egoism in our interpretation
of Christ and His mission.
The dogma, the notion that there is no single divine law
governing continuously the affairs of men whether before or
after Christ, that in some inexplicable way and for no
imaginable reason the compassion and the redemptive love of
the Heavenly Father was shut away through millenniums from all
His children, that the multitudes were left during those ages
in some outer cold and darkness, were expected to shift for
themselves without divine guidance, to submit themselves
blindly to the chances and changes of an orphaned and
undirected world, and that nations and individuals moved on
their aimless way without instruction of conscience, without
the inspiration and the cheer which religion confers, without
access to
knowledge of spiritual truth-any such dogma or notion as this
seems to us strange and arbitrary to a degree, an evident
invention of man's cruel and uninstructed imagination.?"here
is not a word of evidence for it in the teachings of Christ.
It is wholly repugnant to that teaching. It is the merest
superstition. Indeed, it is worse than untenable and
monstrous; it is assuredly blasphemous, an insult to the
character and power of God. What but the evil thought of man
could imagine that a God of justice and compassion, of succour
and helpfulness, the Author of all that is kind and good,
would create the human race and abandon them to dwell
unshepherded without the comfort of His Word or the light and
warmth of His presence through innumerable ages till at last
that year dawned which we in the West denominate the year One.
Has God ever shut the gates of mercy against His children?
If it be argued that He has and that He showed His clemency
and forgiveness by opening these gates in the year One, the
special question arises -- why, that year in particular? What
distinction is there about that epoch to make it suitable to
the exclusion of all other epochs for the one and only effort
of God to illuminate and save mankind? Great saints arose and
mighty civilisations flourished before that period, and left
an enduring mark on the memory and conscience of mankind. And
since that time Islam produced its wonderful mystics and that
brilliant civilisation to which we of to-day owe so large a
What intelligible or consistent philosophy of world history
can be woven around the idea that the one authentic Revelation
of God was given nineteen hundred
years ago, and that it was both final and complete? None at
all. This idea originated in days of ignorance, and bears
every mark of the date of its origin. It contradicts the
teaching of Christ and the spirit of the Bible; it is
incompatible with the revealed character of God and repugnant
to the better instincts and to the fuller knowledge of our
If the interpretation of the Bible as the story of mankind's
spiritual evolution did not bring into relief the reality of
Redemption, did not enhance the majesty of Christ and uplift
our conception of the glory of the Creator, still one would
be impelled to accept it since it is proved from the Bible's
own words. But why should anyone be reluctant or hesitate to
accept it since it redounds to the greater glory of God and
His Messengers and all His works! How precious in such a world
of doubt as ours is the picture of a scheme of salvation which
is intelligible and in accord with the rest of our thinking
and which shows how real and grave and costly and perilous are
those imperfections and sins which men in ignorance so long
have treated as of no account!
How great, how far beyond the thought of any generation of men
is this Scheme which Christ unfolds!
How wonderful the love and wisdom that could conceive and
order it!
How unimaginable the Power that commands and creates, that
informs every part of this vast process from everlasting to
everlasting and that executes His plan throughout according
to a purpose defined before the first foundation of the world!
How far surpassing anything we can ever know of glory is One
who is styled the Son of so great a God, the Image of His
perfections, the
executive of His authority over all things in heaven and
Jesus was not called on to draw any full sketch of the
Redemptive Scheme of God nor to delineate it in any detail,
as is done, for instance, in the Book of Certitude. The view
of it which He offers to us may be compared to our view of the
young crescent moon. A portion of the moon's orb corresponding
to the Christian gospel, is seen in full light; the rest is
shown in outline by a faint filament of thin light so that the
eye can trace the size and contour of the moon, but nothing
Christ was talking to a child-people, and He had no
opportunity of expanding a philosophy of the General Design
of God. Doubtless this was one of those larger mysteries for
the revelation of which their minds were not yet ripe. 'Other
things I have to tell you, but ye cannot bear them now.'
Nevertheless the discourses of Christ are shot through with
allusions and references to the course of God's evolutionary
plan. Many of His words take on a richer, deeper meaning when
contemplated against the background of the General Design.
Only when His teaching is examined as part of a progressive
revelation, when it is seen to be calculated to answer a
particular need of mankind at a given time and to carry
humanity over a definite stage of their evolutionary journey -
- only then can the teaching be recognised as having its own
shape and pattern, as being a consistent and ordered whole,
a considered prescription fitted to the spiritual malady of
a special age.
Not until the Gospel is so regarded can the wisdom of Christ
or His power be really appreciated. Jesus made
several references to other revelations, past or future, than
His own. But there is one in particular which is of special
significance because in it when His authority is challenged
by certain Jews He asserts the spiritual continuity of His own
revelation with the earlier revelations of preHebrew days.
'Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before
Abraham was, I am.' (John 8:58.) The Jews took this to refer
to Jesus the son of Mary who stood before them; they thought
accordingly He was mocking them. Believers know that He spoke
not of the individual Jesus but of the Eternal Christ. 'The
Christ, the Word of God which spoke through Jesus, which was
as a Sun, the splendours of which were reflected in Jesus as
in a mirror, had spoken to men long before the prophet
Abraham; it had not confined its energies, its appearances,
its utterances to the Hebrews alone. 'The Revelation of God
through the eternal Word antedated the Jewish race and had
been in action untold ages ago. Jesus gave no backward limit
of time. He said that Revelation had been in process before
Jewish history began and had always been one and the same,
always in source and spirit identical with that which now was
vouchsafed through Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus was not called on to particularise further than this.
He utterly denied the arrogant monopoly claimed by the self
righteous Hebrews and -- as his way was -- in so doing, revealed
to men a truth with a far profounder significance than
appeared on the surface.
While Jesus here and elsewhere stressed the unity and
wholeness of all Revelation He emphasised in particular and
with detail one portion of God's revelatory design -- namely,
His own succession to Moses, the nature of the
transition from one Dispensation to the other, and the
relationship established between the two connected but
different Teachings.
This was to the Hebrew a matter of vital importance. It has
to us to-day as students of the unified Design of God a
further interest. From it, if we study it with humility and
attention, we may be able to discover the principle of
succession which imparts continuity to a Movement that is
carried forward by a series of separate impulses. We may, for
instance, be able to form some idea of the kind of spiritual
relationship which must have existed between the work of
Abraham and that of Moses who followed him, and perhaps be
able to estimate what kind of change and advance beyond the
First Teaching of Christ will be brought to mankind in His
Second Advent.
'We have Moses and the prophets. Are not they good enough for
us? What need have we of this new teaching? Why should we
listen to this new prophet?' Such would be the remark of every
Jewish churchman as he heard the counsels and pronouncements
of Jesus of Galilee. Jesus anticipated the objection. From the
first He tried to make clear to all Hebrew enquirers what was
the relation of His own message to that of His great
predecessor. But His teaching on this point has more than a
temporal or local meaning and is of interest and value to-day
to the modern Christian and to every student of progressive
The people to whom Jesus delivered His message were Hebrews.
They were steeped in Mosaism: how strong its grip upon them
their subsequent history shows. Their whole outlook on life,
their whole civilisation, was penetrated by Mosaism.
Passionately religious, intensely nationalistic, they regarded
themselves as apart from the rest of mankind, and the force
which united them in this exclusiveness was their loyalty to
Moses. A man of any other nationality, a Greek or a Roman,
might in those days travel to foreign lands and bring his gods
with him or find abroad a faith kindred to his own. But to the
Jews of ' the Dispersion as to those (fewer in number) who
remained at home, there was only one true God, the God Who
spoke to them through Moses; only one priesthood, that which
had come from Moses; only one Temple, that
in Jerusalem, in which sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins
and for fellowship with God were continually offered according
to the ritual of Moses. Jews out of every nation under heaven
mingling with their brethren of Galilee and Judaea thronged
the courts of that Temple, the shrine and sacred centre of
their history and their religion, where they gathered under
the shadow of that divine prophet who had delivered them from
Egyptian serfdom, led them to the Holy Land and made of them
a nation chosen by the one true God as His very own.
From Moses, too, and after him from the prophets of his
Dispensation, flowed that distinctive glorious hope that
animated all Hebrew hearts, fortifying and cheering them in
adversity and proving itself too strong to be quenched by any
vicissitude or lapse of time: the hope of the Messiah.
Every detail of Hebrew life, public or private or domestic,
was regulated with precise and prying exactitude by the
enactments of the Law which (some of it oral and some of it
written) was all supposed to have been given on Mount Sinai
by God to Moses. The 'traditions of the elders' explained,
expanded and applied to every imaginable case the meaning of
Scripture; so great was the veneration in which they were held
that they were regarded as more binding than the written Word,
and once they were formed and accepted as orthodox not a
phrase or letter might be annulled or changed. The most
important and prominent persons in the social order were not
officers of the army nor leading politicians, but rather the
Pharisees, a religious party who kept ostentatiously the
minutiae of the law of Moses, and the Scribes who were the
official expounders of that law. A scribe's dignity
was so exalted that he outweighed in value all the common
people and any statement whatever that he made was above
question and must be received with implicit belief.
The Mosaic religion, as it confronted Jesus, was thus a great
system pervading all Hebrew activities; it was final, closed
and unassailable. In the midst of it stood the written Law;
around it the sacrosanct traditions; and on the outside
guarding this holy deposit walked the sentinel figures of the
Scribes whose authority none could challenge and who were the
intimates of God both in this world and in the next.
When Jesus came to bestow a new revelation on the Hebrews, He
did not find an open door into their hearts, nor their minds
hungry for further knowledge and for a better righteousness.
Quite the contrary. As a teacher who was courteous to those
He addressed, who respected the opinions of others and who
desired not to over-awe nor overwhelm nor to coerce, but to
attract and to win, to persuade and to convince, His first
pedagogical problem was to find the best approach to souls
already saturated with an alien orthodoxy. He showed no wish
to remove the law and the teaching of Moses from their minds:
heaven forbid. His aim was to cleanse away the accretions
which had accumulated about it; to straighten out what through
men's perversity had been warped; to make people's belief in
Moses sincere and true-not a view adopted by inheritance, but
a view firmly held by a native activity of the believer's own
heart. He took for granted the divine prophethood of Moses;
upheld the truth of Moses' revelation, and represented His own
teaching as a natural development out of it.
But His words on this matter have a wider reference
than their immediate appeal and a larger purpose than to
remove the religious difficulties of those to whom He spoke.
They prove to be an important part of His gospel and to
illumine the method which God has established on earth for
the spiritual evolution of mankind. They testify to the
continuity of revealed religion and show how one revelation
passes away and enters into that which succeeds it. He said
(in effect) that between His Message and that of Moses there
was an organic connexion. Though He might alter the customs
of Moses, yet He was not Moses' enemy but his friend; He was
not poisoning, not subverting the ancient Word but purifying
it, advancing it: if the Scribes really knew as much about
Moses as they imagined they knew, they would understand that
Moses and He both bare witness to the same Truth, upheld the
same cause and had in view the same consummation of human
His attitude on this point was wholly new and surprising. It
not only affronted the prejudices of the Scribes, the
Pharisees and the ultra conservative, but it perplexed the
disciples themselves and remained for long a critical
difficulty to Christian converts from Judaism.
John the Baptist had already prepared the mind of the Jewish
people for the new point of view. He connected his work
closely with the Old Testament, claimed to fulfil the prophecy
of Isaiah and to be 'the voice of one crying in the
wilderness'. In spirit and in manner he was like Elijah of
old, with whom Jesus identified him. But in trenchant, fiery
phrases he rejected utterly the current interpretations of
God's Word and the authority of its self appointed expounders.
The Pharisees and Sadducees considered themselves the elect
of the elect, the choicest
spirits of the chosen people; but when they came to him to
seek his baptism, they did not receive from him any
congratulations either on the reality of their holiness or the
reality of their repentance. He greeted them as a 'generation
of vipers', as deadly ingrates who being cradled in Mosaism,
drawing out of it for themselves honours and privileges, were
yet the treacherous enemies of the system that supported them,
living at the heart of it and striking at its heart. He
denounced their pride of race, their trust in their descent
from Abraham. He bade them if they repented to show their
repentance by their deeds; for there was about to descend upon
them from on high a greater baptism than his, the baptism of
One Who with unerring judgment would separate the true Hebrew
from the false, the true shepherd from the hireling; and if
their repentance and their deeds were not approved by this
Holy One, He would assuredly expose them and cast them out to
a terrible destruction.
So far the Baptist went in his teaching; and it was far. He
repudiated without qualification or compromise as utterly
worthless all the Masters of Israel and everything they did:
they were the covert, sneaking, treacherous enemies of the
Great Deliverer on whose revelation they fattened themselves
and nothing less than a renunciation of all their past pride
and wickedness could save them from judgment. As the
forerunner of the Christ, preparing for his Lord a way into
men's hearts, he had to break the people's mental idols, to
clear away ecclesiastic debris and to present first the
negative destructive side of the new teaching. Jesus followed,
taking exactly the same attitude towards Moses and the Old
Testament as John, but presenting the positive aspect of
John's argument and
laying as it were the foundations of His system on the ground
which John had cleared.
The effect of the Gospel of Jesus has been in history to
spread the knowledge of the Old Testament far and wide across
the globe, to win for it a place of reverence and love in
countless millions of human hearts and to make the name of
Moses honoured among all the peoples, nations and languages
of the earth. The enthusiasm of the Scribes and Pharisees did
not accomplish this: far otherwise. It has been the direct
result of the teaching of Jesus Who Himself bound up His own
work with that of Moses and bade all Christians down the ages
to esteem and glorify Moses as His own predecessor and one of
the exalted eternal prophets of the Most High God. So
transcendent was the veneration which the first Christians
learned from their Lord to pay to Moses that not only do New
Testament writers so strongly stress the debt of Christianity
to him, but in the apocalyptic vision of the final Day of
Wrath of God those who have gotten the victory over the powers
of evil sing to the music of the harps of God a lyric of
triumph in which the Song of Moses still blends at that
distant day with the Song of the Lamb.
And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the
song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works,
Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of
saints. (Rev. xv. 3.)
Strange that both the orthodox Hebrews on the one side, and
Christ upon the other should so honour Moses and yet their
views should be irreconcilable and violently opposed to each
other. What the Jewish authorities
thought of Jesus' attitude to Moses is made plain by their
actions. Jesus on His side denied that the Jews for all their
parade of devotion really believed in Moses at all; He said
the hope they placed in Moses was vain -- He was not on their
side, He was against them; true faith was impossible for them
because they sought only glory from one another, not from God.
If He said these hard things of them, it was in fact not
Himself but Moses who was their accuser. (John 5:42-47.)
On the other hand, Jesus claimed that between Him and Moses,
in their teaching, their function, their purpose, there was
the closest resemblance and affinity. The vision vouchsafed
to the three principal disciples on the Mount of
Transfiguration revealed in symbol the intimate spiritual
communion which Christ enjoyed with Moses in moments of
On one occasion (John 14:7) Jesus said that to know Him was
to know the Father, and again, whosoever had seen Him had seen
the Father: He was the express image of God reflecting in
perfection all the divine attributes. On another occasion,
speaking to the Jews, He said that if one believed in Moses
one would believe in Him, the Christ; meaning that so alike
were He and Moses in those things which the eye of Faith
discerns that a true believer would see no difference between
them. In these two comparisons, first of His likeness to God
and second of Moses' likeness to Him, Jesus shows that the
essential kinship between Himself and Moses was in their
godlike attributes, in their perfections, in their power, in
their service of God and in the spirit of their teaching. They
were two distinct individuals, separated by more than a
thousand years, and they gave counsels and commandments
which in many ways were different; yet in their spirit and
their power they were so much alike that sincere true-hearted
belief in one was identical with belief in the other.
In such passages as these Jesus makes manifest how spiritual
evolution is for ever continuous through unceasing change, and
how one Prophet of God succeeding another shows forth by word
and by example a Truth which in its aspect and in the degree
of its revelation is always altering, but in its source and
in its essence is for ever the same. The progress of religion
appears in the Bible as being analogous to the growth of an
individual, to the process of a child's becoming a man. From
infancy to old age the human body is being unceasingly
transformed, its appearance is changing, and its development
in youth is so rapid that the passage of ten years or less
will alter a child beyond recognition. Intellectual capacity,
too, develops with the years, the individual's knowledge
increases, his character is ennobled : and yet his identity
remains the same throughout. So is it with the religion of
mankind which the Bible portrays. Religion becomes
progressively a larger and sublimer thing; but it remains in
essence one and the same religion. The sacred rites and
ceremonies, the customs and ordinances of one era are cast
aside in another, and new rites and customs substituted for
them, but the same religion remains, expressing itself more
fully in new forms. The Divine Prophets follow one another,
each with an ampler Revelation than his predecessor, but all
coming from the One God, exemplifying in word and deed the
one?'ruth and acting as the Lord's vicegerents in one
evolutionary process, one Scheme of Salvation.
Each prophet is independent of any before him, annuls or
institutes ordinances and rites as he sees fit, expands or
adds to doctrine, and under God issues new decrees on his own
authority and in his own name. But his informing purpose is
none other than to carry on the divine work of his
predecessor: to fulfil, not to destroy.
The Gospel gives with emphasis many illustrations in detail
of this great and vital truth, and enforces it strongly by
holding always over against it the utterly false and
mischievous idea on the continuity of religion held by the
Pharisees and the Scribes.
There are certain fundamental spiritual truths which stand in
both Revelations; some of which may have come down without
any change from earlier prophets than Moses. Such truths are,
for example, first, that of the existence and the unity of
God; second, that of God's two prerogatives, to command and
to create (all men being no more than his servants and his
creatures); third, that of the two laws of love and of
justice; fourth, that of revelation and prophethood (for Moses
foretold there would come after him another Moses, from which
statement arose the Messianic expectation fulflled in the
Advent of Christ). The truth of personal immortality might be
added to the list of essential truths, for Jesus affirmed that
Moses had by implication taught it, though a lack of spiritual
acumen had prevented the Hebrews from discerning the
significance of his words.
Such everlasting verities as these form as it were the core
of revealed religion as it appears in the two testaments. On
the other hand the Gospel shows almost from the first word to
the last in how many ways the teaching of Jesus was more
lofty, more exacting and more subtle
than that which Moses had given in an earlier day to a cruder
Moses addressed himself to the Twelve Tribes and said, 'Hear,
O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your
ears. . .' (Deut. 5:1, etc.) Jesus bade His disciples teach
all nations, spoke of His gospel being preached throughout the
world and foretold men would come into the Kingdom from north
and south, from east and west.
Moses summarised his teaching in Ten Commandments; and when
the Christian peruses them he observes that Christ heightened
each several one of these and did not leave one of them
unamended. Moses had said the Israelites were to have one God
only. Jesus went further: He said that all mankind was to have
one God, the Universal Father of all men and nations. Moses
forbade the people to grave any image lest they fall down and
worship it; but Jesus said a man must have nothing in his
heart to worship but God only. Moses warned men against taking
God's name in vain, an injunction which has a general meaning
and also a special reference to keeping a solemn oath. Jesus
went further: He put the command in a positive form -- men
were to hold God's name and His attributes holy. He forbade
an oath as wrong in principle because it implied that reliance
should not be put on a man's bare word and in effect condoned
a simple untruth. Moses separated the Sabbath, the seventh
day, from the rest of the week as a day to be kept holy. Jesus
taught that all time was God's; and as the early Christians
had not, like the Hebrews, a central Temple, but found God
present everywhere if they worshipped in sincerity and truth,
so they set no special days apart as holier than
others. Moses said, 'Honour thy father and thy mother' and to
obedience to this injunction he attached a promise
'that thy days may be long upon the land. . .' Jesus said that
a higher duty even than that to earthly parents is owed to
one's Father in heaven, that one may have to leave father and
mother for God's sake, and He averred that a man has in
reality no true Father except the Father in heaven who is his
Creator. 'And call no man your father upon the earth: for one
is your Father, which is in heaven.' (Matt. 23:9.) The first
recorded act of Jesus was to leave Joseph and Mary that He
might go to the Temple and 'be about his Father's business'.
Moses forbade the taking of another man's life or his property
or his wife Jesus would not permit any thought or emotion or
desire in the heart that would lead to any such wrong deed.
Moses prohibited the coveting of anything of one's neighbours.
Jesus extended indefinitely the meaning of 'neighbour', and
He did not stop short at forbidding any coveting of another
man's goods, but he strongly enjoined a readiness to part with
one's own goods for the benefit of those in need, regardless
of race or creed.
As in these precepts and counsels, so through all the teaching
of the New Testament may be traced the twofold principle of
spiritual continuity and change on which u uprogress in
religion depends and through which the evolution of the spirit
of man is achieved. Jesus with definiteness and with firmness
rescinded or altered very much that Moses had enjoined. He
heightened the former level of moral obligation. He extended
the range of spiritual knowledge. He abolished Old Testament
ceremonies and forms, laws and customs, and introduced others
(simpler and fewer in number) in their stead.
The importance attached by Jesus to these changes is shown by
the fact that for them He faced the hatred and the opposition
of the all-powerful Scribes and Pharisees and made inevitable
that martyrdom which brought His work to so cruel and untimely
an end before the disciples had received that instruction and
training of which they stood in such great need.
But if the life of Jesus and the record of it be brief, there
is material enough for the believer to study the relation
between the Teaching of Jesus and the Teaching of Moses, to
ponder over the changes which Jesus made and from them to
learn what is essential in religion and what not, and so to
judge in what respects future religious progress is to be
made. However little human judgment can decide this question,
one principle is established for ever and one mistake exposed
beyond cavil by the error of the Scribes and Pharisees. They
entertained no doubt whatever that the continuity of revealed
religion depended on the rites, ceremonies, customs and
ordinances given by the Prophet, and through these its reality
was conveyed for ever. Through this delusion they were
prevented from recognising the need of a New Teaching, and
when One came in the very spirit and power of Moses (and even
greater power) they tried Him by their own standards and
adjudged their own Messiah an imposter, a friend of the
The Grand Redemptive Scheme of God carried forward through the
process of spiritual evolution is shown in the Bible as a
perfectly co-ordinated whole. Every part of it has its special
place, its special use. And each one of these parts not only
contributes to the completeness of the general scheme, but is
itself a unit and within its own limits is in itself complete.
If Jesus asserted the continuity of His teaching with that of
Moses, in words at least as emphatic He affirmed its
independence and self sufficiency. His mission was not that
of a reformer. He was not an Isaiah nor a greater Malachi. The
Old Testament had already made it clear that there are two
separate ranks of prophets, a lower and a higher. Of the lower
it is said that to him God shows himself in a vision or speaks
in a dream; with the higher God holds direct communion and
speaks immediately. Moses belonged to the latter of higher
order, and therefore stood apart from all the other lesser
prophets and seers of his time and Dispensation. When Moses
predicted that God would raise up 'a Prophet. . . like unto
me' he did not refer to a prophet of the second rank, to an
Isaiah or a Jeremiah, but to a supreme prophet of his own
degree, the lord of a Dispensation. (Num. xii. 6 ff. ; Deut.
xviii. i 5 .)
The significance of Moses' words and the essential difference
between the two ranks of prophethood is
brought out even more fully in the New Testament than in the
The station of the Hebrew prophets is indeed exalted and
sublime; but the superiority of the Prophet of Nazareth to
even the greatest of the prophets of Israel is manifold and
immeasurable. They were, it is true, like unto Him in some
respects: they were not ordained as inheritors of a formal
succession; they did not receive their authority from men;
they were personally commissioned by God Himself in some
mystical manner. But the prophet of Israel would declare,
'Hear ye the word of the Lord', or 'Thus saith the Lord' :
while Jesus would say, 'It hath been said by them of old time,
but I say unto you'; or 'A new commandment I give to you'.
The ancient prophet gave in God's name counsels or commands
in some special crisis or emergency; but he did not give a
complete revelation of ordered truth, nor did he give a
world-wide message; he did not abrogate any of the Mosaic
statutes or ordinances; he did not found a new religious
system, institute new rites and civil laws, ordain disciples
to take the place of the former priesthood and entrust to them
supreme spiritual authority on earth. The ancient prophet
foretold the coming of a king, a deliverer, a Messiah; but he
did not claim that he was himself the fulfilment of earlier
prophecies nor declare in public or in private that he was the
Messiah. Nor would any ancient prophet presume to make such
statements as these of Jesus, that His Father had delivered
all things unto Him (Matt. 11:27), and hath given Him
authority over all flesh (John 17:2) even to the extent of
executing judgment upon them (John 5:27).
How glorious and sublime the real status of the Lord
Christ was, we mortals never shall be able to understand or
to divine, for these etherial mysteries lie above the range
of human comprehension. But we can with the utmost certainty
perceive that He dwelt in a height of power exalted far above
that of an Isaiah or of a Daniel. The angels at His birth
announced Him as a Saviour; while He was yet an infant the
aged Simeon recognised in His birth the coming of God's
salvation to mankind; and His invitation 'Come unto me' was
an offer of redemption to all the world. No longer in the name
of Moses, but now in the Name of Christ, the Jews-and all
mankind likewise -- were henceforth to seek deliverance from
sin and access to God's pleasure. In Jesus' Name men were to
be saved, and whatever was now necessary for salvation was to
be found in His teaching.
Jesus made it clear that His mission was not only independent
and self sufficient, but that it had also its definite
function; it served a special and bounded purpose. It had its
assigned beginning and its assigned conclusion. As at the
nearer end it fitted the Mosaic Revelation, so at the further
end it was to fit the future Revelation of the Second Advent.
The mission with which Moses was entrusted is exhibited in the
Old Testament with some clearness. His task was to deliver the
Israelites from their bitter bondage in Egypt and lead them
to the Land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey,
which had been promised to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob. This he was to do through the express might of God,
Who would reveal Himself to Moses under a New Name -- meaning
that Moses would give to the people a fuller revelation of
God's nature than had been given them before.
In order to accomplish this work Moses was obliged to take
command of the whole Israelitish people and to assume the
entire burden of leadership both in war and in peace. He was
organiser, administrator, executive, lawgiver, spokesman as
well as general-in-chief against all hostile tribes.
Jesus' personal task had no such material aim as that of
Moses. He was not to lead the people to an actual Land of
Promise, but to a heavenly city, to the Kingdom of God. The
lofty and intense spirituality which distinguished His mission
is shown by the whole tenor of His teaching and especially by
such pronouncements as 'Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh
away the sin of the world' (John 1:29); 'I am the
resurrection, and the life' (John 11:25); I am the bread of
life (John 6:35); 'I am the way the truth, and the life. . .'
(John 14:6) ,
'To this end was I born and to this end am I come into the
world, to bear witness to the truth.'
Jesus testified that the work on earth entrusted to Him was
not indefinite nor discursive, but was to a degree marked out
beforehand by His Father. He spoke of the works that He did
as being 'the works which the Father hath given me to
accomplish' (John 5:36), and He stated that He sought not His
own will, but the will of Him that sent Him (5:30). In the
Gospel of St. Matthew He defines the terms of His mission more
precisely. Making as if to decline the request of a
Canaanitish woman, He gives as a reason, I am not sent but
unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel', where the word
Israel must have its literal sense. When after calling the
twelve He sent them out on their first mission He gave them
the same restricted field of teaching.
Go not into any way of the Gentiles, and enter not into any
city of the Samaritans. . . But go rather to the lost sheep
of the house of Israel. (Matt. x. 5-6; See also 15:24.)
His Gospel was one of God's love for all mankind regardless
of any bounds of country or race: 'God so loved the world. .
.' He bade His disciples after His death, 'Go teach all
nations'; and He foretold that His message would be carried
to the ends of the earth. But He Himself, except for His
sojourn as a small child in Egypt, never dwelt for any length
of time outside of Palestine. He hardly crossed the boundaries
of His own land and His great teaching tours were in Galilee
and Judaea. He made no effort to do what He bade His disciples
do, and what after His ascension they in fact did. He did not,
as St. Paul did, journey forth to spread the Gospel far and
wide throughout the Roman Empire. He was born, He lived and
worked and died among the Jews. He chose as His apostles Jews
only, and He evangelised the world through Jews.
The story of the Temptation (Matt. 4, Luke 4) shows strongly
and vividly that in planning out the course of His life-work
Jesus from the beginning had this restricted field of
operation in plain view.
Jesus Himself told the story of His experience, and according
to His usual practice He made mental images and abstract
things more clear by shaping them into concrete form and
presenting them as a parable. 'The event occurred on the vigil
of His ministry. He had withdrawn alone into the wilderness
and in concentrated thought was considering what means or
policy He should adopt in
order best to carry out among them the tremendous
responsibility laid on Him by His Father.
The actual narrative of Jesus' life and work as given in the
Bible makes known the course which Jesus chose and what came
of that choice. The story of the Temptation shows that before
He began His ministry other courses presented themselves to
Jesus' mind; that He might have chosen one or more of these
and that in that case the development of the Gospel on earth
would have been along another line.
There alone in the wilderness He considered what various ways
there were of approaching His great world-task, and which
among these ways would be most pleasing to God.
He rejected at once any suggestion of letting any personal
needs or desires influence His course; He set His face
deliberately from the first towards the way of hunger and
hardship and even -- if need should be -- of martyrdom.
As He contemplated the scope of the work which the Heavenly
Father had entrusted to His care (extending as it did over the
whole wide world in which whosoever believed on Him should be
saved) His thoughts and His love stretched over all mankind
and He wondered how He would win these uncountable multitudes
to God. At once He rejected any suggestion of using means,
however promising or tempting, that might not agree with the
definitely spiritual mission He had received from His
Father-means ,that in other circumstances would be in
themselves permissible and right. Moses' task, though
essentially religious, had been in large part material: his
duty was to free his people from subjection to a foreign
yoke and lead them out to a land which they should make their
own. He found it obligatory to make himself a national
deliverer and to organise and to rule with the strong hand of
a military commander. But Jesus' task included no such
practical commission; the administrative element was small and
altogether secondary; He was 'to take away the sins of the
world', to lead men towards the Kingdom of God, to open the
gates of eternal life and bring into being on earth a new kind
of spiritual fellowship transcending all material limits. The
assumption of some kind of national leadership might have been
permissible and necessary had some less spiritual world
objective been in view; but it was not for Him to seek
material power. For Him, charged with a spiritual aim, to seek
such power would have been unfitting, and He discarded it at
once utterly as displeasing to God. He decided to use a purely
spiritual appeal, to be a Divine Teacher, and to draw all men
to Him by the force of His spiritual love.
It was in the Sacred Temple, in Jerusalem, in the centre of
Hebrew religion and civilisation, that Jesus was to make His
appearance and His appeal. How was He to attract the attention
of these devoted and even fanatical religionaries, and to show
forth His heavenly power with much effect that they would
abandon the time-honoured Mosaic rites and statutes and accept
from Him a new system of order and worship? Here again He
rejected at once any suggestion that He should make an
unspiritual approach to the hearts of the faithful or to their
religious sense. He would not take any personal advantage of
His extraordinary endowments. He would not disarm disbelief
by any miraculous amazing display of His
superiority, nor reduce all alike to a common submissiveness
by cowing their imaginations.
No. Not by spectacle, nor by force, nor by any means save
those of an utterly humble, selfless love, and spiritual power
would He give His Message to the Hebrews and through them to
all the kingdoms of the earth. Anything other than this would
in His case be of the Evil One.
When the forty days were over and He returned from His
solitary vigil in the wilderness, His course was laid out and
He travelled straight forward in it till He was able to say
upon the Cross, 'It is finished'.
'rhus Scripture testifies that Jesus' mission on earth was in
a general sense defined for Him by the Father; it reveals
something of what the terms of that mission were; and it shows
how Jesus before entering on His ministry thought out with
care the principle of action He would follow in His
Jesus' teachings are imbued with the same singleness of
purpose and unity of spirit as all the rest of His life and
work. They fall within a prearranged scheme. They are designed
for a definite effect; they form a distinct pattern and convey
a single spiritual impression. His manner in teaching was so
simple and so spontaneous that it is easy not to discover how
many depths of wisdom are hidden in His utterances. He Himself
drew attention to this fact when He addressed Himself not to
all who stood by, but only to those who had ears to hear, that
is, had ears to receive His spiritual meaning. If, He said,
there was one kind of heart which would truly mark, learn and
inwardly digest His words, there were three several kinds (the
hard heart, the shallow heart, the preoccupied heart) which
could not. Only deep reverence
and long familiarity can help the soul to realise that Jesus'
simplicity was due to His entire mastery of His subject and
to His being able to express the essence of truth in the most
clear and appealing way.
So unstudied and artless are Jesus' utterances, often called
forth by some sudden emergency or some casual question, that
one may easily miss the fact that they all fall within a
certain scheme, they are in their range and level chosen
according to plan, and they form when taken together a unified
whole. The presence not only of enthusiasm and kindness, but
of restraint and of order and of method in His work, and the
firm coherence of it all, becomes most clearly apparent when
His teaching is not examined in isolation, but in relation to
the rest of Scripture and in particular to the preceding
Revelation of Moses. In regard His teaching in its true
perspective as given in the Bible; to observe how it looks
back to the teaching of the past and forward to the teaching
of the future, is to be aided in seeing that whatever Jesus
said was in strict accord with the commission He had received
from God and with the plan which He had decided on for
Himself. His own judgment fixed for Him how much He might
bring forth out of the infinite treasury of God's truth and
give to the people of His Dispensation. He gave to men
knowledge which Moses had withheld; and He withheld knowledge
at His First Advent which He might be able to give at His
Second Advent. A strong will and a firm intellectual grasp
determined the limits of His teaching. An utterly selfless
spirit impelled Him to declare as much of the Truth as
befitted the evolving capacity of the age without the least
regard for the consequences to Himself.
To keep the Gospel of Jesus, when studied, in its determined
place in the Bible, which means to keep it in its place in the
spiritual evolution of mankind, is to be in the best position
to interpret its many significances, both great and small.
There is yet one further relation in which the Gospel may be
regarded, in addition to its relation to Mosaism and to the
Second Advent and to the whole evolutionary scheme. It is a
relation of lesser importance (it seems) than these; yet since
it is indicated in Scripture and by the words of Christ
Himself, it is not to be passed by: the relation of Jesus'
teaching to that of Abraham and Moses taken together, as if
His revelation in a particular sense summed up and consummated
theirs. Abraham had founded a spiritual family. Moses founded
a spiritual nation. Jesus spiritualised humanity.
Scripture suggests in several ways that the Master Prophets
Abraham, Moses and Christ are not only connected by a special
tie of race and of place, but that also in some spiritual
manner they form a distinct group, a threefold unity, and that
their combined work constitutes a particular and crucial
episode in the grand progress of human evolution. Their
figures stand out far above all others in the Old and New
Testaments : Abraham and Moses are the mightiest of the
mighty, the sublimest heroes of the Old Testament; Christ is
the divine hero of the New. While the sacred narrative covers
the whole period of manhood's existence from the date of its
birth to that of its spiritual maturity, the life and work of
these three fill almost the whole book. In the twelfth chapter
of Genesis there is a suggestion that God's call of Abraham
marked a critical epoch, a new departure in the spiritual
history of humanity. As the story proceeds everything is done
that art can do to create a sense of suspense and expectancy,
to arouse wonder and hope and forward-looking thoughts. In the
Gospels the strongest claim is advanced that what men were
taught to hope for had come, that what they had awaited was
here. A hundred prophecies are quoted as fulfilled in Jesus,
and Jesus endorses such quotations. Spiritually sensitive
minds recognise intuitively in Jesus the Consolation of
Israel. The heightening of the moral level of the Teaching is
so marked that this climax is felt as reaching to the
spiritual realm and as being an eternal fact. The awfulness
of the mistake of those whose minds are dead to any sense of
uplift and progress and who destroy as a malefactor the
world's guide, enforces still further the reality of the
Jesus emphasised on many occasions the continuity of His work
with that of Moses; but on one occasion, in language so
strange and challenging as to call for pause and special
thought, He referred to the connexion between His own
Dispensation and that of an earlier Prophet, of the
predecessor of Moses, of the Father of the faithful, Abraham.
His statement, 'Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day:
and he saw it, and was glad' (John viii. 56), conveyed to His
hearers at the time no intelligible meaning; one might wonder
why He uttered it. The only effect was to mystify and
exasperate. But to the faithful heart its significance is
radiant and sublime. It shows that the great service which the
Hebrew people through their saints and seers rendered to
mankind and which is treated at large in the Bible, is to be
regarded as a smaller system
of Revelation within the larger system, as being in its lesser
way a spiritual whole with three Master-Figures and three
Parts, leading up to its climax and its highest glory in
Christ. A fitting subject for so great a book as the Bible!
Abraham, that majestic and lonely being of the ancient past,
the Father of the Faithful, inaugurates under God's command
a great religious movement. By that divine light which was his
he saw in vision on the eternal plane (as lesser prophets in
a later day saw less clearly than he) the Dawning and the
Glory of the Day of Christ, the fulfilling in Christ's
world-wide spiritual revelation of the work which he himself
as a pioneer of God began two thousand years and more before.
As on the material plane Moses had looked out from the
mountain-top of Pisgah upon the Promised Land into which
another than he would lead his people, so on the spiritual
plane in a manner somewhat similar Abraham was privileged to
see far off the Spiritual Land into which a sacred Son of the
In the Lord's Supper Christ gave a remembrance of Himself. In
the Lord's Prayer He gave a remembrance of His work and
teaching. The prayer was, of course, to be used; and not only
to be used but to be copied. It was revealed expressly as a
pattern prayer. It shows us how Jesus wished us always to
approach His Gospel, to meditate on His work, to understand
His purpose. It is not meant to be regarded by itself, as
isolated from the rest of His teaching. It is not a lonely
gem; it is a mirror which Christ's own hand holds up to
reflect for us the essence of His message and its meaning. A
little glass may reflect a great stretch of sky. As a summary
of His aims and of His works and His prayers for mankind it
is more authoritative than any precis or formulation which may
be drawn up by men. It is from our Lord's own lips. It is
expressly given not as one prayer among others, not as perhaps
the best of many, but (what is much more) as typical, as
showing forth that mental attitude to the Gospel which the
believer is to assume in those most sacred moments when, in
Christ's name, he approaches God in meditation and prayer.
Here the wisdom of the Lord Himself has gathered together and
set in order the major thoughts which He wishes Christians
ever to keep in mind as characteristic of His work for
mankind. These are the great things to pray for if we would
follow the express direction of the Lord, and the order in
which He names
them shows the proportion and the emphasis which He wishes to
be observed.
'These are the essential matters in which men are to ask for
God's help. Assuredly men have no right to seek this help
unless they themselves earnestly desire and work for these
things. Therefore this pattern prayer offers a very clear
implied direction as to the principal things for which the
Christian is here on earth to labour and which he is to make
his prime practical objectives. If he faithfully follows the
line of thought and action so strongly marked out here by
Christ, he will be sure he is fulfilling the purposes of his
In its substance and in its proportions the Prayer of Jesus
is parallel to the Ten Commandments of Moses. Both Prayer and
Commandments divide into two parts; they are in the same
order. The first deals with divine things; the second with
human things. The first sets forth the honour and glory of
God; the second, the needs and duties of man. But the Prayer
belongs to a much more advanced stage in the spiritual
evolution of mankind. The vista of social change and
betterment opened in the Prayer is far more definite and more
bright than anything in the earlier teaching. Christ, speaking
from that point of view which he always maintained, the point
of view of God and His heaven, indicated the prospect of the
unification of mankind through their communion in a single
spiritual ideal, their subjection to a single spiritual King,
their obedience to one and the same universal law. Nineteen
hundred years ago Jesus foreshadowed that very problem which
circumstances have forced upon modern attention, defined the
right approach to its solution, dealt with its spiritual
aspects at large in his general teaching
and drew the main primary thoughts together in a few pregnant
phrases that His followers might have the central task of His
Dispensation full in front of their minds whenever they said
their prayers. He taught men to look forward to a wonderful
change, a complete transformation in the condition of mankind
that God's power, answering man's prayers, would produce.
Something which He called the Kingdom of the Father would come
down on earth, and the sovereign will of God would be accepted
the world over as the rule of action.
This reorientation of social life was not to be entirely new;
it was to be modelled after the pattern of life in heaven, as
a sculptor might mould a piece of clay to the shape of a given
figure. The ways of heaven are the original; the ways of earth
are to be brought into correspondence, and mortals are to
study and adopt the ideals of heaven in order to reproduce
them in this lower world.
The emphasis of the Lord's Prayer confirms what the whole
Gospel makes more than clear, that Christ's main objective was
not mystical nor metaphysical nor doctrinal: on the contrary
it was social and practical. He came to earth and lived and
died, that he might open before all men the path to a diviner
civilisation, might lift human life to a new level of
knowledge and well-being.
No one can be unmoved by the impassioned spirituality of all
that Christ said; but He never suggested that spirituality and
ordinary human existence do not go together. Spirituality, on
the contrary, is aided by progress in education and in
civilisation. On the other hand, no progress can be
maintained, and no true progress can
be made, without the exertion of spiritual strength and
He did not at all condemn earth-life nor deplore its existence
nor minimise its importance. Far from it. There is not a hint
of any kind of pessimism in His outlook. There is nothing in
His utterances to correspond with such despairing
denunciations as that of the great poet, who was so saddened
by the human misery and wickedness about him that He cried out
against man's birth as eclipsing the beauty of a world which
God otherwise had made so lovely. He does not lament, nor
encourage others to lament, the gathering of the shadows of
mortality around human life as the years of childhood pass
away. He proclaimed man's life on earth as a glorious
, an opportunity of winning an unending and unimaginable
blessedness. He sought in every way, by precept and example,
to impress on all the religious importance of social health
and happiness. His purpose was to show men how to get the
maximum of good results from their life on earth. The
announcement of the herald angels had been Peace on Earth. One
of Jesus' great prophecies was that the Meek shall inherit the
Earth, meaning those who, like Moses and himself, had
surrendered their wills to the will of God. He did not teach
His disciples to pray that they might go to heaven when they
died, but that they might do God's will on earth while they
lived. God long ago had made the earth and everything and
everybody in it and had seen that all was good; and now He so
loved all the inhabitants of the earth that He sent His Son
to teach and uplift them and be as one of themselves. There
was nothing of the recluse nor of the ascetic about Jesus. He
himself drew attention to this fact. The Baptist
was bred in the wilderness and preached in the wilds, he
dressed in the roughest garments and fed on the coarsest food;
he was a lonely figure, and the burden of his eloquence was
denunciatory. The contrast between him and Jesus was evident
and striking; and the reason for it was hardly less evident.
John's special task was to prepare men's hearts for the advent
of the Messiah. He had to destroy the old corruptions and
perversions, to break the mental idols set up by men, to warn,
to condemn, to purify. He had to clear a highway for the
approach of the Lord; and that highway was within the hearts
of men. He did not attempt to reveal a system of new truth,
as Jesus did later. His one positive pronouncement was the
immediate Advent of Christ. Outside of this proclamation, the
rest of his teaching was a rebuke and a call to repentance.
But Jesus, on the contrary, combined the closest communion
with God with constant social intercourse. He moved as a man
among men. He drew crowds about Him and welcomed them. He kept
His disciples continually by Him. He was criticised because
He shared men's feasts as well as their prayers, and mingled
with people of all classes, not refusing His company even to
outcasts -- 'a gluttonous man, and a winebibber', they
cavilled, 'a friend of publicans and sinners'. He exemplified
all that was best and most charming in social accessibility.
He insisted on the social virtues -- compassion, goodwill,
forgiveness, charity, justice. He rebuked the Pharisees for
their social iniquities and oppression of the poor -- for
devouring widows' houses and laying on others burdens which
they would not touch with a finger themselves. He showed the
Rich Man condemned after death to torment for no other
reason than callous self indulgence and neglect of the beggar
who lay, day after day, helpless and in pain at his gate. The
questions which He said the Divine Judge would ask of men at
the Great Assize did not, in one instance, concern questions
of orthodoxy or belief, but concerned only men's practical
conduct to one another and especially to those in need. He
heightened the moral ' standard of behaviour set by Moses, and
in order to lift civilisation to a higher level, He introduced
new social ordinances at the peril of His life. It was not so
much on account of His purely spiritual revelation concerning
the kingdom of heaven, eternal life and the like, that He
incurred the hatred of the Scribes and Pharisees, as on
account of His interference with the temporal regulations of
Moses on such matters as divorce and the keeping of the
Sabbath. How great must have been the importance He attached
to social laws and customs, if for their sake He would defy
the powerful classes and hasten His own destruction!
Destitute as He was, a wandering teacher without a place to
lay His head at night, He started among His companions a
benevolent fund and dispensed charity to those who were as
poor as He.
He showed that every single human being was loved and cared
for by God; He strongly insisted on every man's direct
personal responsibility for his acts; but He never treated the
individual as an isolated unit, but always and essentially as
a member of society. No man could live to himself; he must
live in relation to others. People in those days, much as
to-day, divided all human society into two parts : their own
fellow-countrymen and foreigners. The Jew put the Gentile in
a different class from himself; as
the Greek or Roman did with the 'barbarian'. The Baptist,
preparing the minds of his listeners for the broader teaching
of Jesus, had warned the Jews not to trust to their special
privileges, nor to think that their being inheritors of the
Promise would be enough to satisfy the approaching Messiah.
. . . begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to
our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these
stones to raise up children unto Abraham.' (Luke 3:8.)
Jesus from the first refused to countenance the prejudice
against a foreigner, and went even further than John. He
proclaimed that all men are equal in the sight of God and are
to be henceforth equal in the sight of one another. His first
sermon, as recorded in Luke 4, was directed against the
national and religious exclusiveness of the Jew, and He quoted
in His support the incident of Elias and the widow of Sidon,
and that of the cleansing of Naaman, the Syrian, from his
leprosy. The immediate result of this address on the
congregation was that 'all they in the synagogue, when they
heard these things, were filled with wrath, And rose up, and
thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the
hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him
down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went
his way.' (Luke 4:28-30.)
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, He taught that
in the New Dispensation the duty of being kind to a neighbour
meant the duty of answering the need of every human being
within reach, regardless of any difference in race, religion,
tradition or any such thing. Spiritual kinship overbridged any
such boundaries as these. His Gospel was to be preached to all
nations indifferently;
and it must be carried to the uttermost ends of the globe
before the next great step in world-evolution could be taken.
To the Christian, as there was but one God and one heaven, so
there was but one earth, a single home for the upbringing of
all the Father's spiritual children. All human beings
everywhere were to be regarded as members of one and the same
universal spiritual society. In one of His comparisons, He
likened them to sheep who, He said, would one day become one
flock. He went even farther than this, and spoke of believers
as being united in a way like that of the branches of a single
tree, He himself being the central trunk from which all sprang
and through which they all were joined to one another. The
world-unity which He had in view was not outward nor of a
superficial kind: it was very real and deep-seated. It was an
inner unity of thought and feeling, of outlook on life, of
spiritual experience and knowledge. He said very little about
organisation and He postponed questions of world-government.
He dealt with the first things.
It was always His insistence that the unification of the human
race was a matter to be proceeded to by steps and degrees.
There were certain measures which must be taken in hand first,
and others second. It was not for man to determine the order
of these steps; it was for God. The right and proper order had
long ago been established by divine law; and man's part was
to discover and follow the provisions of this law. If man
preferred his own way to the way laid out by the principles
of evolution, good results could not be obtained; there must
of necessity be delays and disappointment. Christ defined with
the utmost clearness and emphasis what was the order of
progress; man must, under the law of the universe, seek first
kingdom of God and God's righteousness: he must before all
else in his heart hallow God's name. Other
things must come second and would follow if the first forward
step were rightly taken.
So direct, so strong, so telling was Christ's attack upon
every kind of divisive prejudice and pride, that He paid for
His teaching the price of His life, and showed Himself very
ready to sacrifice Himself in the cause of truth and
unification. All His commandments, negative and positive, were
such as to put an end to estrangement and to promote
affection, harmony and concord. He sought in every way to
cleanse men's hearts of selfishness and to educate them from
self centredness to world-centredness. Love is the first
commandment. Love is the second commandment. There is no third
commandment. Turn in the New Testament where one will, the
counsels of Christ are all in the direction of one effect, one
end: amity, fellowship, unity. To glance over the Sermon on
the Mount is to see that Christ there blesses the merciful and
the peacemakers; He bids men be reconciled with one another
before they come to worship God; He denounces anger and
enjoins truthfulness; He commends forbearance and generosity
and a goodwill that has no thought of reciprocity: a man is
to do to others as he would have them do to him, and whatever
they do to him (be it as bad as it may) he is to be as kind
to them as he can, to help them, bless them and pray for them.
So important did He think the duty of forgiveness that He
included it in the Lord's Prayer and made a man's forgiveness
of his brethren the measure of the forgiveness he might expect
from God. So strongly did Christians long ago realise the
importance of the need and the duty of
forgiveness that they introduced their hope of God's
forgiveness of their sins into the Apostles' Creed.
Christ revealed nothing about the organisation of a system of
international law. He did not take, in Isaiah's phrase, 'the
government. . . upon his shoulder'. (Isa. ix. 6.) He did not
define any social pattern of world-order. Such a problem did
not arise. 'The earth at that time had not been explored. No
one's imagination then could picture all the empires and
peoples of the planet as unified into a single co-ordinated
system, as forming some kind of universal theocracy. Mankind
was altogether too immature to develop those powers of heart
and soul which would be needed for so great a feat of
co-operation. It was as yet too inexperienced in the arts of
government. Jesus' mission was spiritual only. It dealt with
men as men, as units of the Kingdom to be, and brought them
individually a new degree of consciousness, which, when spread
from heart to heart through the world, would enable them to
face the further and higher tasks involved in reconstituting
the whole social order of the planet.
The union of all mankind at which Christ aimed was not a mere
brotherhood. Men were not only to become like one flock but
at the same time they were to have one shepherd. Believers
were not to be as so many dismembered boughs of a tree, but
were to be boughs living and growing on one trunk. The
world-ideal which Christ sought to realise is given most
commonly in the figure of a family. All men were indeed
brothers; but the primary fact was they were sons, sons of one
Father. God was to be conceived of as Father; the apostles
prayed to him as Abba, Father; every Christian was instructed
to pray to him as Father; Christ's own particular title, Son
of God,
reminded every believer of the Heavenly Father. Whenever one
prayed, one's first thought was always to be of reverence for
the Father and for all that was of the Father.
So vigorously did Christ urge upon men this remembrance of a
unifying Fatherhood that He bade men call no man on earth
father; they had only one Creator, the Father in heaven; and
instead of thinking of their human fathers on earth, through
whom they were divided into many families, they were to
acknowledge as a reality only one true Fatherhood, that of the
One Universal God, the Maker of all, Who loved all and watched
over all and provided for all.
If they would make a steadfast effort and develop within
themselves that deep spiritual love with which Christ endowed
them, the earth verily would become one home and all the
members of the human race one family.
Jesus did not bring His Revelation to a people whose minds
were open, who loved truth for truth's sake and were ready to
welcome it from whatever quarter it came. On the contrary, He
brought it to a people lifted up with the most extravagant
pride of religion and of race, who believed themselves the
favourites and confidants of God and who were led by a group
of divines that preyed on the fanatical prejudices of the
Circumstances more uncongenial for the presentation of a new,
a progressive and a highly spiritual Revelation could hardly
be imagined. One might almost think it would have been easier
to proclaim the Gospel in Rome itself, the capital of the
Western world, where men were tolerant and interested in
Eastern philosophies, and where there was no organised
hierarchy nor closed system of orthodoxy to idealise human
tradition and stifle thought.
Rome, however, had no first claim to the New Teaching, nor had
any land other than Palestine. The New Revelation was a
continuation of the Old Revelation given by Moses. To the Jews
alone belonged the sublime and awful privilege of first
receiving it; and to them belonged too the responsibility of
using their great privilege aright. The Gospel could not be
understood save as the fulfilment of the prophecies and
promises recorded in the Old Testament, and in particular in
its relation to the work of Mosaism. This connexion was a
vital part of the Message itself, linking it with the eternity
of God and His redemptive love. Because of it, the Gospel in
a special sense belonged to the Jews, and was, so to speak,
an indigenous product in the Holy Land. Yet by a strange and
tragic irony it was this very connexion which blinded the Jews
to the truth of the New Teaching and which caused the divines
to denounce and martyr their Messiah.
The goodness and charm of Jesus have captivated and held the
imaginations of men for centuries; sceptics, if they deny His
claims in their fullness, admit with readiness the ideal
beauty of His life, of His character and of His teaching;
history has made evident the reality of His power over men,
and there has seldom been a time when men, conscious of their
unworthiness, have looked towards Him with a greater longing
than now. We are altogether at a loss to understand the
dullness of the Jews in refusing to pay Him honour; and we
cannot express our bewilderment at their associating His name
with that of Beelzebub and their procuring His crucifixion as
a public enemy.
We may dismiss the matter, supposing perhaps that they, in
spite of their zeal for God and for Moses and their loyalty
and generosity towards their church, were persons of
unparalleled depravity and their action was due to some
But the Jewish divines and the multitudes were not alone in
their lack of faith. The disciples themselves were slow of
understanding, feeble in faith, prone to doubt. 'Their actions
show this abundantly. Jesus said so expressly. Their lack of
faith astonished Him, wearied Him; He used to rebuke them for
it and for their doubts; their
faith was not as big as a mustard seed; conscious of their
infirmity they prayed Him rather helplessly to increase their
faith for them.
The divines, indeed, martyred Jesus and destroyed their
nation; the disciples confessed Him, served Him and through
them Christ's saving Message was carried to mankind. But the
difference between the two was not that between jet black and
purest white, between no faith at all and perfection of faith.
The disciples, too, had their spiritual temptations and
difficulties, which some of them overcame more fully than did
others; they were not quick to apprehend the bearing or the
essence of the new revelation. If their glorious record shows
nothing whatever of that cruel envy which blighted the
Pharisee and the Scribe, yet the disciples shared the
narrowing prejudices of every orthodox Jew. That which in this
respect distinguished the disciple from the divine was that
the divine surrendered abjectly to his prejudices, while the
disciples struggled and persevered and conquered, and through
their conquest attained the vision of God and became
messengers of His truth.
'Blessed are the poor,' said Jesus in his ordination address.
The disciples who stood before Him proved the truth of His
statement; for it was the privileges and the leadership. of
the Scribes and Pharisees that made more difficult for them
the independence of mind which the disciples, 'babes' as they
were, abundantly evinced.
If they were as 'babes', yet the most serious and formidable
problem which confronted the disciples was in its nature
intellectual. It was not a sin of the flesh but a sin of the
mind which ruined the Scribes and Phariees and wrecked the
Jewish nation. The harlots and sinners
and publicans and outcasts found easier access to Jesus than
did those afflicted with pride of caste and intellect. The
great difficulty that beset every conforming Mosaist was that
of setting the New Message of Christ in its right relation to
the Message of the older Dispensation.?'he Scribes and
Pharisees utterly failed to surmount this '. obstacle: they
did not even try. The disciples succeeded, but only after much
delay and many mistakes. If we, with another tradition and at
this distance of time, are to understand the frame of mind of
the first-century Jew and to appreciate his dilemma, we shall
need imagination and dramatic sympathy. The point of view from
which the modern Christian naturally looks on the life and the
teaching and the surroundings of Jesus of Nazareth is wholly
different from that of Jesus' compatriots. We look back across
nineteen centuries of Christian civilisation and see its lowly
founder illuminated by the glory of his posthumous
achievement. We know the Gospel as the Magna Charta of the
West, and as more. We see it stand in independent and
dominating splendour. When we open our Bibles, that to which
our hearts and minds first turn is the New Revelation. The
Gospel of the Lord Christ stands in full view, filling the
foreground of our thoughts. Behind it in a distant
perspective, we descry the cruder preparatory teaching of
Judaism out of which Christianity arose. But the Israelite who
listened to Jesus was nursed in a religious tradition more
than two thousand years old, which he cherished as the one
hope and glory of his nation and of himself; while the
Christian Faith existed only in its pure essence and its germ,
and the great system with which we are familiar had not begun
to take shape even in imagination.
To us, the two major problems of Christianity are its
influence on life and on civilisation, and secondly, its
extension throughout the earth. But in the New Testament there
was a third major problem which has now no practical meaning
and little interest, but which, in that age, was of vital and
urgent importance. It was the problem of development, of
transition, of passing over from Mosaism to Christianity and
of making between the two systems the right connexion.
We may regard with cold eyes the flowering of Judaism into
Christianity and scrutinise it as a matter of history, as a
process of intellectual development. But in its own day it had
another appearance. The New Testament with its warm humanity
and faithful realism shows that to the disciples and other
Jewish Christians the transition was a cause of inward stress
and mystical struggle, a cause of heart-searchings and
heart-burnings, a cause of difference of opinion and sharp
division. If we think of that transition as an issue long past
and now dead, we ignore the strong testimony of the
Gospel-narrative. Around this issue gathers much that is
darkest in the misunderstandings, the mistakes, the failures,
the tragedies, the crimes of the story. To it may be traced
the blindness of the Jewish divines, their rejection and their
crucifixion of their Lord.
It has more than an historical -- it has, too, a profound
psychological and religious interest, and its significance
still lives. Their failure was due to a mistake to which, in
principle, human nature is always open-the mistake of
confusing what is accidental in religion with what is
essential, what is formal with what is vital. They did not
understand -- perhaps they chose not to understand-that
religion is a living, growing force and that God's method
of revelation is continuous and progressive. Their history
shows in a manner as realistic and dramatic as can well be
imagined how spiritual bigotry and ignorance may weaken and
deprave the human soul, and with unseen hands produce
inexorably the most momentous changes in the fate of men and
of nations. The Israelites were in religion a self opinionated
and highly exclusive people. This characteristic marked them
out not only when they were in their own land among their own
kind, but also when they travelled and dwelt in foreign parts.
Roman writers such as Tacitus (Hist. v. 5) and Juvenal (Sat.
14, 103) advert to it. They had their own fixed and immovable
ideas about Mosaism. They venerated all Scripture as verbally
inspired. They took it in the most literal sense. For its
greater protection, they had enclosed it within an elaborate
system of Traditions which had been deduced from Scripture or
were thought either to be implied in it or to be needed for
its amplification. These traditions of the Elders were as
sacred as the Word of God itself. They were fixed and
unchangeable. Divine knowledge consisted in knowing them, and
righteousness in keeping them. None could expound either Holy
Writ or Tradition authoritatively save the Scribes; and
whatever the Scribe said on any question must be and always
was the last word, the express truth.
These views were not confined to men such as Caiaphas
and Simon the Pharisee and Gamaliel and Nicodemus but were the
common property of all orthodox Israelites, both those who
believed in Jesus and those who did not.
Amongst those who confessed their faith in Christ, not the
least ardent in their churchmanship were the two
leaders who figure so prominently in the New Testament
-Paul and Peter: Paul who described himself as 'a Pharisee,
a son of Pharisees', who wrote: 'Did God cast off his people?
God forbid. For I also am an Israelite' (Romans xi. I); who
loved his fellow-Israelites to the end and said of them:
Theirs 'is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and
the giving of the law, and the service of God and the
promises; (theirs) are the fathers, (theirs) is Christ as
concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever.'
(Romans ix. 4-5.) Paul, whose interpretations of Christianity
are so coloured with Judaism that sometimes one can hardly
understand his allusions or his argument without some
knowledge of rabbinical lore -- and Peter, who clung to
outworn Mosaic customs with an unreasoning obstinacy that
called down a just rebuke from Paul.
Every good Jew, whether a cleric or a layman, whether he came
from Judaea or Galilee, believed in the finality of Moses'
Revelation and in the everlasting permanence of all the Mosaic
rites, customs, sacrifices and laws. He believed that his
people were the elect of God among all nations, that the
Scribes were the only teachers of true religion in the world,
and that the Messiah when he came would reduce the Gentiles
to their proper position of subordination and establish for
ever the sovereignty of the Jewish people and their theocratic
When Jesus appeared and announced that the Revelation of Moses
was not final, that its moral precepts were not exhaustive nor
the highest possible; that the secular and ecclesiastical laws
of Mosaism were subject to modification and to repeal; when
He announced that the appointed time for these changes and for
a new Independent
Revelation had come, He challenged the accepted view and the
established belief of every Israelite who heard Him. If a Jew
were in his heart more interested in the observances of his
traditional religion than in its spirit, he would view the new
teaching with little comprehension and with much distaste; if
these observances were the chief occupation of his life, he
would view it with fear and hate.
The young prophet from Nazareth was indeed asking of His
auditors a great deal. He was asking them to give up usages
and customs, ways of thought and habits of belief which had
been honoured among them for centuries and which had become
firmly entrenched in the ' hearts and the lives of all. He
called upon them to trust themselves, soul, spirit, and body
too, to the new teaching of one who offered them no recognised
human credentials whatever.
The crisis was indeed a test of spiritual faith and of moral
courage. It was meant to be so. It was designed to separate
the true-hearted from the insincere, those who genuinely
believed in God from those who played a game of make-believe.
But Jesus was not demanding of his generation the impossible.
He was not trying the Israelites beyond their strength nor
seeking to exact from them more than they could give. 'The
Jews were quite capable of recognising the New Revelation:
their tragic refusal to do so was not inevitable, it was of
their own free choice. Who will imagine that God would have
sent His Son into the. world with inadequate powers to achieve
His purpose? Who will imagine that God condemned the Jews and
punished them with an era-long exile and humiliation for an
offence for which they were not truly responsible?
The fact that their rejection of their Messiah was their own
uncompelled, free act was in so many words affirmed by Jesus
when he said:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and
stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have
gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her
chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house
is left unto you desolate. (Matt. 23. 37-38u)
Had the divines of the day consented to examine
dispassionately the new doctrine, they soon would have found
proof of its authenticity. But they refused. Prejudice, envy,
love of leadership, closed their minds. So soon as they
perceived that their privileges were threatened, they hugged
their exclusiveness tighter than before, and their fear roused
them to hatred and cruelty.
'The same emergency that showed up the falsity of the Scribes
and Pharisees brought to light the sincerity and
true-heartedness of the apostles. 'Their faith may have been
weak, their understanding not great: but they chose to follow
Christ. They struggled against their infirmities; if they
wandered into error they turned back into the way of truth.
By slow degrees they were put by their patient Master through
the difficult lessons they had to master. They learned that
this man whom they loved and trusted was the Messiah: they
learned that He was a spiritual Messiah, and finally they
learned that He was independent of Mosaism and brought with
Him a new law and a new book.
The manner of teaching which Jesus employed in dealing with
the Jewish people and in particular with the apostles is one
of the most interesting among the minor features of His
Revelation. It was not a method calculated to give the most
sensational or the quickest results. It was one which would
proceed little by little and would of necessity take time. One
observes, on reflection, that the method was in reality an
application on a small scale to the individual mind of the
self same principle which the Eternal Lord of Evolution uses
on a large scale in the education of the soul of mankind.
Jesus neither had nor desired human credentials. His Five
Witnesses are given in the fifth chapter of St. John: the
Baptist -- His own life and teaching-the Father - -Holy
Scripture -- and Moses. Jonah had one sign to give to the
Ninevites -- his inspired message of God's compassion: Jesus
likewise (so He taught) had His sign, which was His divine
Message; and that sign must suffice, for He would give no
more. In accordance with the determination He had made before
the beginning of His ministry, He did not attempt to force
anyone's conversion or hurry anyone's enlightenment by
resorting to supernatural means. He would not suppress
incredulity by doing wonders nor exemplify His Messianic power
by physical miracles. When He was importuned to confirm His
utterances by performing some prodigious feat, He refused. A
had He consented to give one, would have produced no
constructive effect on people's minds; it would have made the
wrong appeal: it would not have awakened spiritual faith nor
promoted that most delicate process of soul-development. In
the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus quoted Abraham,
in paradise, as saying that if men on earth were not persuaded
by the teaching of Moses and of the prophets, they would not
be persuaded even by one who came back from the dead to warn
He would heal a sick man, not to display His power, but out
of pure kindness and compassion; He would strictly enjoin him
to tell no one about the incident. Ostentation, even in what
might appear the best cause, was not within His plan. He would
raise the dead, for was He not the Prince of Life, and had He
not come to give men a more abundant life -- was He not
Himself the Resurrection, so, that any one who believed in Him
had eternal life and was for ever immune from death? After
ages and more materialistic minds might reduce His miracles
of life-giving and represent Him as merely restoring to dead
men the physical life which had been taken from them and which
must soon be taken again from them this time beyond recovery.
Such restoration would indeed spread amazement and
consternation far and wide, beyond the borders of Palestine,
and no doubt as far as Rome itself and put every Scribe,
Pharisee and sceptic to shame and to silence. But the true
miracles of life-giving which Jesus performed and which
assuredly proved beyond any doubt His Messiahship were
spiritual miracles wrought upon men's hearts and souls, which
the carnal ego could not see nor the mundane mind appreciate,
and which for
that reason might be well symbolised by parables of men called
back from beyond the grave.
Jesus, in fine, showed in every way the utmost deference to
man's independent will. He offered to men truth as a gift. He
did not urge it upon them, not even upon the disciples; He did
not beg them to accept it, nor try by any stratagem to induce
them to believe in it. With care and infinite patience, He
measured His teaching to the capacity of those whom He taught,
and as their receptivity improved, He gave them a little more
and again a little more.
It is in His education of the 'Twelve whom He chose to be
continually with Him that the progressiveness of His teaching
is brought out most clearly and most dramatically. He did not
attempt to suggest to the disciples at once, or quickly, all
that He intended them to learn from Him. He, of course, well
knew (as we with wisdom of the event know too) that He was
about to institute such colossal changes in human history and
human character as no Hebrew in the past, not Moses or Abraham
himself had contemplated. He would soon lay upon the apostles
one of the most tremendous responsibilities ever undertaken
by human beings. But He did not try to explain to them what
that responsibility would be nor how great would be the
civilisation which He was about to found through their agency.
'They were quite unprepared for such knowledge and quite
incapable of penetrating His meaning or visualising future
developments. He told them very little about their future
work. His endeavour was so to strengthen them that they would
be fit for the emergency when it arose. He taught with the
purpose of opening their hearts, quickening their faith,
intensifying their
spirituality, so as to equip them for the responsibilities all
too soon to be laid upon them. At first He told them little
in plain, explicit language, and He chose the subjects of His
teaching less with a view to satisfying their curiosity than
with a view to remedying their moral deficiencies and to
converting weakness into strength. His aim was evidently not
merely to change the views of the apostles, but (what was much
more difficult) so to change their hearts and minds that their
views would then change themselves. He once said that whatever
a man found to do he should do with his might; and assuredly
His teaching was thorough. There was something in His
utterance, however undogmatic or serene His manner, which made
His words sink deep. He breathed about those who were with Him
a spiritual atmosphere in which superstitions and follies
weakened and withered. He did not try to blot out of the
disciples' minds the whole system of a former belief that He
might build a new and better system in its place. On the
contrary. He sought to disturb their religion as little as
possible, to encourage the growth of whatever was good in it
and to let whatever was corrupt die through its own
unsoundness. It was not by imparting items of information to
them that He sought to guide them to a knowledge of God;
rather He sought to invigorate their minds and strengthen
their intuitions that they might of themselves learn more of
the divine truth which was being shed upon them. Through this
method, undazzling and unrhetorical as it was, Jesus was able
to recreate and regenerate the souls of the apostles and lead
them gradually onward and upward from their original ignorance
and infirmity to the heights of wisdom and power which
ultimately they attained.
The basic fact on which the New Era and its civilisation were
to be built was the fact of Jesus' Messiahship. But Jesus was
in no hurry to announce this even to the disciples. His wish
was so to increase their spirituality that they would be
enabled to discover it for themselves; for their appreciation
of the truth would, in that case, be more full and more firm
than if He spared them the effort and told them with His own
For this reason Jesus refused to be drawn into any premature
declaration of His identity. Two attempts to draw from Him a
clear statement of His status are recorded, one friendly and
one unfriendly: both times He refused. The Baptist from prison
had sent messengers to Jesus to ask, 'Art thou he that should
come, or do we look for another?' (Matt. xi. 3.) The Baptist,
of course himself well knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but
he wished that others should know. He felt his own end
hoped approaching, and he that before the Herald was
put to silence in the grave the Lord whose advent he had
proclaimed would see fit to declare Himself publicly to the
world. He determined that before he died he would give Christ
at least an opportunity and an invitation to make the great
pronouncement. Jesus gave an answer which implied but did not
openly state that He was indeed the Christ and was doing the
Christ's work; and (Matt. 11. 4-5) was healing the spiritually
sick, giving spiritual knowledge to the ignorant, bestowing
eternal life on those buried in mortality: and 'blessed is he
, whosoever shall not be offended in me' (Matt. xi. 6),
meaning, blessed were those who, in spite of the personal
simplicity and lowliness of Jesus, were spiritual enough to
discern His heavenly power and His divine dignity.
At a later date, shortly before the end of His life, the chief
priests and the scribes and the elders assembled, and
approaching Jesus as He taught in the temple, sought from Him
such a definite declaration of His claims as they hoped soon
to be able to use against Him with deadly effect. 'By what
authority', they enquired, 'doest thou these things? and who
gave thee this authority?' Jesus courteously replied that He
would answer them if they first would answer a question of
His; and He asked them, whence came the authority of John the
Baptist? When they could not tell Him, He said, 'Neither tell
I you by what authority I do these things.' (Matt. 21:23-27;
See also Mark 11:28-33.)
The people at large, like the disciples, were attracted by
Jesus, they gathered about Him, they hung upon His words, they
were charmed by His sweetness and astonished at the strange
power that was in His words; but like the apostles, they did
not realise He was the long-expected Messiah. The divines had
deduced from a number of Old Testament texts what the Messiah
would be like and what He would do. He would be something like
what they imagined Moses and Joshua had been, a great
warrior-deliverer, and He would carry the work of Jewish
emancipation which these two leaders had begun to a still more
glorious and resounding conclusion. Moses had given the
Israelites the Holy Land: the Messiah would give them the
world. Of all this the divines were quite satisfied, and of
a great deal more, and they had for generations been telling
the Jews in school and synagogue what great things this mighty
earth-conqueror would do for them as soon as he made his
appearance. Jesus of Nazareth did not at all resemble this
Messiah: He had
no throne, no sword and was a simple, poor man. Some people
were so deeply impressed by His doctrine and personality they
thought He was like an Old Testament prophet; no one thought
He was the Messiah. Even the disciples themselves for a time
did not think so. They loved Him; they regarded Him with
wonder and awe; they felt and often spoke as if they were
children before Him, He was so wise and so great; they were
ready to leave their homes to be with Him and to learn from
Him; they believed they would follow Him anywhere. Yet He did
not seem to them like a Messiah. The Messiah would
! be quite a different sort of person. They would recognise
Him at once because the Scribes had drawn such a vivid picture
of Him, and it was the Scribes' business to know all about
such matters. Jesus did not conceal His identity from them;
but on the other hand He did not hasten to proclaim it. He was
content for a while to imply it. In the Sermon on the Mount
He made statements of Himself which could only be true of a
Messiah, and of a great Messiah. But He did not affirm in so
many words His true dignity. He taught His disciples and
encouraged [ them and led them with Him into such a
strange, new, beautiful world of spiritual values that, by
degrees, they became able to appreciate something of His true
majesty and splendour. There began to dawn on them the truth
this radiant Being was in reality more than they had suspected
at first. Weeks passed; and months: still Jesus did not open
to them the great mystery. He watched, and continued His
training of them till He saw that, at last, the moment had
come: they had reached, or some of them had reached, the very
edge of the great recognition.
The experience of the disciples, therefore, was in contrast
to that of Simeon and of the prophetess Anna recorded in the
second chapter of St. Luke. The intuition of these two aged
people perceived at once the identity of the infant as the
Promised One; but they did not live to learn in what a strange
and unexpected manner the child would become the glory of
Israel and shed light upon the Gentiles.
The account given in St. John's Gospel puts the acknowledgment
that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God,
together with the changing of Simon's name to Peter, at the
very beginning of the ministry; in fact, before the actual
call of any of the disciples. But St. John assuredly does not
intend here to contradict the chronology of St. Matthew, which
Christendom has always accepted. Rather, according to the
spirit and the purpose of his unique Gospel, these words, like
many other words in other connexions, must be taken in some
profound mystical sense or as having an important theological
rather than historical meaning. But even when Jesus saw that
the first stage of His preparation of the disciples was
complete and that the right moment had come to make known to
them His station as the Christ, He did not then declare His
identity to them with His own lips.
He did not, in fact, ever make an open declaration (according
to the first three Gospels) until his trial. Then in answer
to a direct question from the High Priest, he gives (to His
own..destruction) the great claim which they had vainly sought
to establish from the mouth of witnesses: nobody could be
found who had actually heard Jesus assert that He was the
Messiah. (Matt. 24:63-64.)
It was from the lips of Peter that there came the first
declaration of Jesus' Messiahship ever made on this earth; and
Jesus drew the pronouncement from him. At a time chosen by
Himself, Jesus brought forward the problem of who He really
was and who the Jewish public said He was. The disciples told
Him that some supposed He was John the Baptist miraculously
come back from the dead, some that He was Elijah, or else
Jeremiah or some other prophet. They said no more; they did
not volunteer what they thought of these opinions nor did they
give their own opinion. Jesus propounded them a further
question: 'But who say ye that I am?' (Matt. 16:15.) 'The
disciples' reply came from St. Peter: "Thou art the Christ,
the Son of the living God.' Jesus at once accepted the title
and pronounced on Peter the only personal blessing of a
disciple quoted in the four gospels: 'Blessed art thou, Simon
Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed st unto thee,
but my Father which is in heaven. . .'
Jesus left no doubt in the minds of those present of the
immense significance of this pronouncement. Peter, in virtue
of his confession and of his brilliant vision of the truth,
was declared the first believer, the first Christian.
Hereafter there would arise down the ages others who would
share his intuition, who instead of reflecting the belief of
those about them, instead of owing their faith to tradition,
would, like Peter, receive not from their fellow-men but
immediately from the Father Himself an inward understanding
of Christ's nature and message. As the first Christian, so
should be other Christians : they would be distinguished from
others as Peter was distinguished from others. They would have
from God an independent realisation in their own hearts of the
Messiahship of Christ.
They would be knit with Peter, the First Christian, by this
common experience; and out of all such believers ;
(their hearts indissolubly united together in love for God and
Christ) would be built Christ's true congregation into which
all who entered were admitted not by their fellow-men, not by
flesh and blood, but directly by the Father in heaven Himself.
To such Christians Jesus committed the evangelisation of
mankind and all the authority and discipline which would be
needed for the prosecution of the task. So long as He lived,
all power was His; but He foresaw that soon He would be taken
from them and He now began to prepare them for their heavy
responsibility. The time would come (and come at no distant
date) when the burden would be shifted from His shoulders and
would be laid on theirs. The spiritual future of mankind would
depend on them and on those who after them would walk in their
steps -- the steps, that is, of humble faith and of intuitive
assurance of the reality of their Master's Messianic title.
However lowly or obscure or poor such followers might be,
however overwhelming the opposition marshalled against them,
Jesus promised that no power on earth or under the earth ever
should prevail against them. Nothing could refute their
witness. They and such as they were the true servants of human
progress, the children of spiritual evolution, the destined
inheritors of the earth. This appointment of the Twelve to
'bind' and 'loose' implied the revocation of all authority
given under the Mosaic Dispensation. Officials of the Jewish
Church would no longer be in the line of spiritual evolution
nor empowered to work as agents of a Dispensation to promote
the spiritual progress of mankind. The authority of
the Kingdom was to be transferred henceforth to the
The removal of the Scribes from their position as teachers
must have saddened the heart of Jesus. It was called for, it
was forced upon Him by their own arrogance and craving for
personal leadership. Had they really had the divine wisdom
they pretended to have, they would have been the first to
acclaim their Messiah and would have retained the leadership
(or rather become the divine servants) of the people. Their
spiritual influence would have spread far and wide among the
nations and they would have won eternal, and perhaps also
temporal, fame and glory. Often and often God would have
gathered them under the wings of His love and saved them from
destruction; but they would not heed, and their house was made
a desolation. (Matt. 23:37-38.)
This confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living
God, and His acceptance of the title, mark a central and
crucial point in the spiritual education of the Twelve.
At first there was a doubt. 'The disciples remembered the
prophecy that Elijah would come before the Messiah, and
Elijah, as far as they knew, had not yet come: how then could
Jesus be the Christ of prophecy? Jesus explained that Elijah
had indeed come and the Jews had done to him as they listed.
'The disciples knew that He referred to the Baptist and they
began to see what none else saw, how in Jesus the prophecies
of the Old Testament were being fulfilled before their eyes.
Realising now that their Master was none less than the
Messiah, they became conscious of the importance of their own
advancement and authority. As the chosen
friends of the Messiah and His inner council, they would be
made rulers in Israel as soon as the Messianic kingdom was set
up. It was not long before they were disputing among
themselves who should sit nearest the Throne and take
precedence of the others and wield the greatest power over the
Jesus no doubt foresaw this development and He took pains
quickly to disillusion them, to start them along the second
part of their spiritual education and to discourage the rise
of any such foolish and unworthy ambitions. He warned them in
plain, strong words that a complete surprise awaited them;
that He would not prove to be the kind of Messiah they had
been led to expect: far, far otherwise. They would gain no
praise from men for following Him: quite the contrary. He
foretold that He must go to Jerusalem; and there in the Sacred
City suffer many things at the hands of the very elect of His
own people, the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be
set at nought and mocked and crucified. But, He explained, no
cross could kill His spirit, no grave could hold His power,
no darkness dim His light.
This blunt and terrible warning, given designedly so soon
after the declaration of His Messiahship, shocked and
horrified the disciples. No doubt it was meant so to do. They
could not believe it nor comprehend it. He was the Messiah.
No defeat could happen to the Messiah, least of all in
Jerusalem and at the hands of the leaders of the Chosen
Peter again became the apostles' spokesman and gave utterance
to those unspiritual conceptions of Christhood in which all
Jews had been trained and from which the disciples had not yet
shaken loose.
Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it
far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. (Matt.
Jesus instantly, in the sternest language possible,
reprimanded Peter and repudiated his opinion as being of the
essence of evil; and then, proceeding, set forth the law of
self sacrifice, and the certainty that in spite of His
apparent defeat, He would in God's strength triumph over all
opposition; His Cause would suffer eclipse for three days, but
for no longer.
This new strange spiritual conception of the Messianic office
bewildered the disciples. They did not, they would not reject
it; they tried to accept it. But their minds were not flexible
enough to grasp it. It sank into their hearts very, very
slowly. In spite of their Master's vigorous and reiterated
teaching, they could only abandon the familiar idea of the
Messiah with toil and pain; they clung to it, as it were, in
spite of themselves. Even at the end of Jesus' ministry, they
had not been able to understand His meaning nor succeeded in
their efforts to accept His statement as to His sufferings and
His violent death. They still expected He would set up some
form of external kingship in which they would enjoy positions
of glory and power among men; and Jesus' last efforts in their
spiritual education were directed to training them in the
virtue of humility and in the ideal of service.
Before He could bring home to their hearts this difficult and
unwelcome lesson, He was taken from them. The tragic close of
His career brought their spiritual failure to unmistakable
expression. Peter denied His Master thrice; Thomas doubted
Him; Judas betrayed Him; all in the
hour of His danger forsook Him and fled. The crucifixion cast
them into utter amazement and despair. The whole mental fabric
which their pride and imagination had built up was shattered
in a moment and fallen. Their world was empty. Their beloved
Lord was defeated -- the mocking scribe was right. 'They had
made some terrible mistake . . . For three days the Cause of
Christ lay in their hearts dead and buried. None can tell what
might have happened, had it not been for the intuition and
courage of one who was not of their number -- a woman, Mary
of Magdala. She it was who was the first to understand the
reality of Eternal Life and Christ's Eternal Sonship. She
understood before those to whom they were spoken, the words
of Jesus after His rebuke of Peter.
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take
up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life
shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake
shall find it. . . the Son of man shall come in the glory of
his Father with his angels. . . (Matt. 16:24-25, 27.)
Quicker than any of the Twelve, she perceived the reality of
His kingship, and recognised that if His body was dead, His
spirit was indestructible and was alive breathing in mortal
power. She cheered the disciples. She communicated to them her
vision, quickened their faith and renewed their courage.
Purified by their suffering, animated by her spiritual power,
they now perceived for the first time the incorporeal nature
of the dominion and glory of their Lord and of His kingdom.
Not till the first Easter was the great confession of an
earlier day completed; and
if the glory of that confession belongs to Peter the glory of
making it in the fullness of its spiritual sense belongs to
the Magdalene. But even at this stage in their mental growth,
even after this appalling trial and this celestial
illumination the disciples had not shaken off the hold of
convention and superstition nor realised the independence of
the Revelation of their Lord. They still clung to the idea
that Christ had come to reform the Jewish church. As if to
show how closely ingrained in their habit of mind were the old
traditions and how slow and toilsome was their transition to
a larger truth, the New Testament records that for years after
the Resurrection Peter, the leader of the Twelve and the
greatest of them, could not free himself from his old thraldom
to Jewish custom -- nor was he alone in his
hyper-conservatism. 'The disciples might accept Jesus'
abrogation of the law of the Sabbath and his prohibition of
divorce, but they could not accept the principle on which
these changes depended. 'They could not apply it to other
parts of the Mosaic tradition. When Jesus was no longer with
them in the flesh to give definite directions and rulings,
their inclination was to hold fast to an old belief unless he
had explicitly rejected it. In spite of such general remarks
of Jesus as his statement that new wine would need new
bottles, and a more specific remark such as that in Mark 7:18
(Luke 11:41) that what a man ate did not defile him, but what
he thought ('This he said, making all meats clean'), Peter and
others with him sincerely maintained that the observance of
circumcision and of the distinction between clean and unclean
meats was still called for under the Christian law. Nor even
when with difficulty he changed his mind on this point and
adopted a larger opinion, did he find it easy
at first to adhere, under stress, to his new point of view.
(Gal. 2.)
Whatever may be the psychological explanation of the
extraordinary fact, it was Paul, the ex-Pharisee, the
extremist, more thoroughly steeped in Scribal lore than any
or all of the other early Christians, who made this mental
transition from Judaism to Christianity more quickly, as well
as more discerningly than any of his contemporaries, and
showed the older believers how to apply to Mosaism the
principles of religious development they had been taught by
Christ. Doubtless, a philosophic temperament, eagerness of
mind and intellectual courage, travel and variety of
experience (he was not a Palestinian Jew) as well as the
particular grace of God, helped him to this remarkable feat.
But he did not achieve his faith without strong effort. Long
before his conversion his heart had been torn by a struggle
between old error and new truth. He resisted the call of God,
and like many another great evangelist in after ages, like St.
Patrick, for example, and like St. Xavier, he refused to
surrender his proud independence till, at last, the force of
truth overwhelmed him and he realised the enormity of refusing
to confess his knowledge and to go forth to give battle for
his dear Lord. 'For if I preach the gospel,' he cried, 'I have
nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; for woe
is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.' (1 Cor. 9:16.)
He, like Peter, was vouchsafed the privilege of an outward
vision to strengthen him in his struggle. He needed a period
of seclusion and meditation to win peace after the turmoil of
conflict, and to think out the manifold problems that beset
him. But once he became sure of himself and of his position,
he went forward, never looking
back. Owing to the tardiness of Peter and the other disciples,
he took their place as the chief expounder and propagator of
the Gospel. His point of view and his views (even when largely
personal) have greatly influenced Christian interpretations
up to the present time. He it was who, moved by the same
intoxication of love for Jesus as the earlier disciples, was
the first to recognise the comprehensiveness of Jesus'
teaching, to see the significance of the command to gather all
nations into the kingdom and to paint in clear outline the
vision of a world-community bound into one by the inward bond
of a common faith. He never met Jesus in the flesh, but he
learned from Jesus' words and bore witness more clearly than
any other of his time to the truth that man's freedom does not
impair God's sovereignty, that world-history is radically a
spiritual process, that the Creative Will laid out its course
from the beginning and that mankind (one and all) tread
haltingly and erringly a path ordained before the foundation
of the world.
Whatever obstacles were put in their way by the force of
tradition or the pride of learning were overcome by the
Apostles' love for Christ and their vision of His great
purpose. He dwelt in their hearts and they longed to serve
Him, to please Him, to walk in the path He had laid out for
them, to give His Message and to impart the joy of knowing
Him. This love which held them so fast to Jesus was a wholly
new eXperience to them. They had been brought up in an
atmosphere of reverence, accepting a religion which came to
them by inheritance and which they had received without
question and without ecstasy. But now through this association
with Jesus they entered a new spiritual world. He poured on
them a warmth and wealth of love and happiness. All joy and
bounty seemed to be His. His presence brought a sunshine in
which fears and sorrows melted and lost their power. He was
always their Master, their Lord, their Leader. His heart, His
mind, outreached their range on every side. His sweetness and
charm and wisdom and knowledge seemed boundless. His goodness
and holiness awed them. But though they felt themselves
immeasurably beneath Him, and He in His greatness remote,
afar, yet they knew He loved to be with them; He loved to
praise them; they had never had so true, so dear a friend on
earth as this Jesus; and however exalted in reality He might
be, yet He drew them
to Him more and more and in His companionship they expanded
and matured.
With complete detachment they devoted themselves to His
service. They left their homes. They abandoned their
positions. They scattered north, south, east, west, spreading
their message from God of love and joy and hope. He had
promised: 'lo, I am with you always.' (Matt. 28:20.) Yes, He
was in their hearts never to be parted from them, and now they
need ask nothing of the world for He Himself was with them-and
He, their own Beloved, was the Son of God.
They were as sheep in the midst of wolves, advocates of peace
in a world that gloried in war, of justice and mercy in a
civilisation founded on conquest and slavery, of unity when
men and nations cherished their divisions, votaries of a
universal God of love in an age of a thousand fratricidal
hates. Gladly they welcomed toil and hardship, calumny,
persecution, loneliness; through suffering they drew nearer
to their Master's presence. No doubt dwelt in their minds.
They were as men walking in the glory of the sunshine through
a city of the blind.
When He had been taken from them and they had gained from the
strong faith of Mary an acuter insight into heavenly things,
and began to recognise the greatness of their Lord's
exaltation, they reached new degrees of self surrender
untouched before. As days and months of faithful fearless
witness to Him went by, their enthralment and their adoration
deepened. With wondering, throbbing hearts they entered into
the mystery of His pronouncement: 'Before Abraham was, I am.'
(John 8:58.) They felt that in Him was being made manifest to
them the image of a mystic Divine Spirit, the Truth of Truth,
the Word
that was in the beginning with God, that was God, the Word
without Whom nothing was made that was made, the Word that now
was continuing His creative work and bringing into being a new
creature, a new degree of manhood, a new and more abundant
life than men had before enjoyed.
A deep content, a deep happiness was theirs. In the morning
they woke to it, and at night they carried it into their
sleep. 'Lo, I am with you always,' said Christ; and He was
faithful Who promised. The earth indeed was at the moment in
the grasp of His enemies. Those who knew Him and loved Him
were few, persecuted, powerless. But His ultimate and complete
victory was assured, was near. Their special privilege and
glory it was to prepare the world for the Great Day of His
conquest and to make the people worthy to meet Him when He
All through the Old Testament had run a thread of eager
expectancy looking far out towards a Golden Age to come. The
modern mind might recognise it as a dim awareness of man's
progress towards an inevitable evolutionary goal. The Gospel
did not allay this expectancy. On the contrary it confirmed
and heightened it. It declared that this joyous and triumphant
message of Love and Life was itself but a prelude. A greater
message was to follow. For the first time in the history of
Revelation a messenger of God made the intensifying of this
age-old Expectancy the central feature of His teaching. The
objective of all prophecy was but a step away, the promised
Kingdom was at hand. The bounties and salvation brought to men
by Christ was not the fullness of the Promise but rather the
channel and the power through which man
would be made strong enough to receive the crowning
blessedness of Unity.
The nature of that blessedness was for the present to remain
insensible. Its mysteries could not, as the Sacred Record
shows, be made known by Christ even in private to His own
chosen disciples; they must be reserved for a future
Revelation when the minds of men had been brought to maturity.
Mankind must yet pass through direful afflictions and be
brought near to destruction before, chastened by suffering,
it emerged from the long cycle of Ignorance and Rebellion to
the Haven of Perpetual Peace and Surrender to the Will of God.
The careful study of Scripture with a spiritual mind will show
every reader that the promised Kingdom would not appear on
earth till after the Return of Christ and the coming of the
Spirit of Truth. It was to be not spiritual only but material;
not an individual achievement only but a collective; to rule
over outward conditions of life as well as inward. In the
complete loving obedience to the will of God which it would
involve, prejudice between races, nations, and religions would
be outgrown, justice and security would be established, war
forgotten, mankind would become thoroughly unified, a system
of universal responsiveness and co-operation would produce a
new social order which would be maintained through new laws
and new institutions.
That the Christ of the second coming, the Comforter, the
Spirit of Truth, would bring a new, different, and. more
advanced Revelation, that He would have a new Mission, a
distinct Function, is made by Christ and Holy Writ as clear
as well can be. The whole narrative of the Scripture as
illuminated by Baha'u'llah testifies to the
error of the common Christian view that the Revelation given
to the Jews in Palestine was terminal, that it imparted all
the knowledge of God destined for mankind upon this planet,
that the Second Coming of Christ would bring to the Christians
nothing challenging nor new but would universally fix the
Christian Faith as the one and only true Faith and would exalt
those diverse and discordant dogmas, creeds, interpretations,
rites, ceremonies, customs and observances which constitute
what now is called Christianity to the throne of the world and
abase all the other religions which have hitherto vied with
it for the allegiance of mankind. How (it may well be asked)
does this traditional expectation of the Churches difFer in
spirit from the calamitous superstition of Scribe and Pharisee
about their Messiah? How does it differ in spirit from the
orthodox view of the Muslim concerning Muhammad as the 'Seal
of the Prophets'?
Nowhere is it suggested that even the establishment of the
Kingdom of God and the fulfilment of all the prophecies of the
two Testaments will bring the close of the evolutionary
unfolding of man's heart and soul and the end of Revelation.
Who could doubt that when God's victory is complete, when
harmony between His will and man's has been attained, when the
meek have inherited the earth and the righteous are enthroned,
man's intellectual and moral progress will go forward more
rapidly than ever and will continue indefinitely? The Baha'i
Faith teaches expressly that this is the fact, and opens a
prospect of man's individual evolution through many aeons
ahead under the sacred guidance of a succession of High
It was not however to the further unfolding of man's
powers but rather to the actual coming of the Kingdom, to the
dangers of the Advent of the New Messenger from God that
Christ drew the attention of the apostles and of posterity.
This Advent would be wholly different from Christ's personal
presence either in a believer's heart or in the midst of a
gathering of two or three of the faithful. If He said on the
one side 'I am with you always even to the end of the Age',
he said on the other 'I will come again': two distinct
promises. The Second Coming would be a dated historical event,
the time and hour of which were already known to the Father.
It would have a material as well as a spiritual side, and
would follow the pattern of other manifestations. The Prophet,
for all His glory and sovereignty would, when He appeared, be
an ordinary man, like everyone else about Him -- as Abraham
had been, or Moses or Jesus Christ Himself His appeal would
be to the detached heart, to the spiritual mind. He would not
coerce belief by any outward display of divine majesty, any
more than Jesus had done. His coming would be (like that of
Jesus) a test, to distinguish the worthy from the unworthy,
the righteous from the unrighteous. It might happen that an
unbelieving mankind might not recognise the Divine Judgment
that was being passed upon them. It might even be that
professing Christians might not know their Lord when He came
back. He plainly indicated indeed that this would occur, when
He pictured Himself at the Great Assize pronouncing to those
who used His Name but did not do His works the dreadful
sentence 'I never knew you'! He foretold that affliction such
as had never been known before nor ever would be known again
would fall upon mankind before the final Redemption of the
race. But on
this Second Coming He would be invested with what no earlier
Prophet had had -- power to enforce the Rule of God on earth,
to overwhelm the resistance of the forces of evil, to put down
all rebellion and establish on an impregnable basis the
dominion of God in the hearts of men and in the outward
conditions of life upon the planet.
He promised His disciples -- who can have little realised to
what He referred -- that the Gates of Hell would not prevail,
that the meek should inherit the earth, assured them that it
was their Father's good pleasure to give them the Kingdom and
that in it the righteous should shine forth as the sun.
The long reign of Darkness was near an end. The Day was at
hand: the Day of God on which should fall no night!
This Faith in the coming victory of God; the vision of their
Risen Lord riding forth conquering and to conquer in the final
battle for Righteousness and 'I'ruth endued the early
Christians with a power which nothing could gainsay or resist.
So long as that faith and vision remained, that power never
wholly failed the Christian Church.
When those who would bring the canon of Christian Scripture
to a close sought a befitting climax to that majestic story
of the spiritual evolution of the race, they chose the
Apocalypse of St. John the Divine in which is depicted with
a glowing love and an ecstasy of faith that has charmed the
heart and enthralled the imagination of the faithful down all
the ages, the final triumph of the cause of Christ and God on
earth. Here in prophetic symbol the Seer of old time portrays
the spiritual history of
the days in which we now are living, recounts the mission and
the achievement of the Bab and of Baha'u'llah, and spreads in
golden words before our eyes the glory of the Dawning Day of
God which for a hundred years has shone on all mankind, though
seen of none save those in whom had returned the spirit of the
early founders of our faith.
'And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the
earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that
liveth for ever and ever. . . (that) in the days of the voice
of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the
mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his
servants the prophets.' (Rev. 10:5-7.)
'And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth
part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men
seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave
glory to the God of heaven. The second woe is past; and,
behold, the third woe cometh quickly. And the seventh angel
sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, the
kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord,
and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.'
(Rev. 11:13-15 .)
'And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven
and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more
And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from
God out of heaven, prepared as a bride
adorned for her husband.
'And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the
tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them,
and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with
them, and be their God.
'And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and
there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying,
neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things
are passed away.' (Rev. 21:1-4.)
'And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high
mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem,
descending out of heaven from God,
'Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone
most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. .
.' (Rev. 21:10-11.)
'And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as
crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
'In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the
river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner
of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves
of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
'And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and
of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him:
'And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their
'And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle,
neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light:
and they shall reign for ever and ever.' (Rev. 22:1-5.)
Out of that Gospel, and in the hope of the Coming of the
Kingdom of God on earth there arose in Europe a mighty
civilisation which called itself by the name of Christ and
carried the Christian message around the globe. It reached an
unparalleled degree of prestige, of power, and prosperity. Its
industry, commerce and finance overshadowed the rest of the
planet. It was the fountain-head of the science, the culture,
the political ideas which exercised unchallenged supremacy
over mankind.
In the eighteenth century the great historian Gibbon, in
prophetic mood, sketched the prospect which he then saw before
his country.
. . . in war, the European forces are exercised by temperate
and undecisive contests. . . 'The balance of power will
continue to fluctuate, and the prosperity of our own or the
neighbouring kingdoms may be alternately exalted or depressed;
but these partial events cannot essentially injure our general
state of happiness, the system of arts, and laws, and manners,
which so actvantageously distinguish, above the rest of
mankind, the Europeans and their colonies.*
When, some hundred years later, a scholar-statesman reminded
his fellow citizens that they were the most
'The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch.
XXXVIII ad finem.
enlightened generation of the most enlightened age in history,
or an illustrious proconsul wrote that the political system
to which he belonged 'is under Providence the most beneficent
institution which the world has ever seen. and its work in the
Far East is not yet accomplished', they did but record the
general impression of the time. At the opening of the
twentieth century, the West believed that through the guidance
of Reason and of Science its security and continued advance
in wealth and power was assured. It regarded the Order it had
established as the apex of the entire process of human history
and as synonymous with civilisation itself In its religious
aspect, its many churches were thought to represent the
Kingdom of God and the success of their foreign missions was
expected in due time to inaugurate the reign of God on earth.
Then suddenly in an hour when they looked not, taking them
unawares, catching them as it were in a snare from which there
was no escape, the floods of human hate and jealousy and greed
were let loose. The whole vast system began to disintegrate.
Its strength, its glory, its dominion, its pride and affluence
passed away not through the impact of a foreign foe as in the
case of ancient Rome or Jerusalem, nor through any external
influence, but through some undiagnosed disease within its
own system. Statesman, philosopher, scientist, scholar and
divine, all were at a loss. None could tell whence the
visitation came nor whither it would lead. None could shore
up the tottering structure of the social order, nor check the
ever-extending process of decay and dissolution.
The earnest and open-minded Christian saw that the
foundations of Church and State were gone. Religion had become
a collection of forms, phrases and customs which men borrowed
from their predecessors or from their environment. The
disputations of rival sects proved that the teaching which in
its purity had been the cause of concord, union and progress,
had changed its character and become the cause of discord, of
division and of immobility. Leaders of the Faith when asked
for the light and guidance it was their business to give
showed neither vision nor foresight nor initiative nor
constructive power: they would give such an answer as would
sustain their own prestige or protect some man-made tradition
which they served. The Gospel, as divines interpreted it, had
become irrelevant. Love had long since grown cold. Faith was
but the shadow of a name. Men watched no longer for the coming
of the Kingdom of God. Their eyes were fixed in helpless
horror on the opening gates of hell. The Christian looks
eastward at the other world-faiths, sisters of his own faith.
He looks at the cults, worships, mysticisms, ideologies that
beset his path. He sees that all is vanity. The shadow of
spiritual death lies over the whole wide world. Search as he
will, he finds nothing to win the allegiance of his heart and
spirit, no hope, no vision that resembles Christ's glorious
pattern of the future of redeemed mankind -- till the day when
there breaks upon his soul the dawning splendour of the
Revelation of Baha'u'llah.
There within the Baha'i Faith the spirit of the early
Christian Church has risen again. There stand the great
essentials -- spirituality, love, reverence, obedience. There
the Gospel standards of loyalty and faith are restored in
their fullness. Christ is adored as the very Word of God,
sharing God's glory from all eternity. Faith is not a
profession, nor an imitation, but is as that of Peter
described by Christ flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto
thee, but my Father which is in heaven.' True membership is
tested as Christ prescribed; 'By this shall all men know that
ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another', and 'If
ye love me, keep my commandments,* -- tested and proved that
is by obedience to Christ and love to one another. Christ's
message is renewed, elucidated, expanded, carried forward. The
Gospel (along with the whole Bible) being explained in every
point through a divine interpretation, it becomes once more
a guide to truth and human life. Christ's crowning promise of
the Kingdom, which the Churches have failed to realise and
have for all practical purposes abandoned, stands in the
Revelation of Baha'u'llah where in any Christian system it
ought to stand, in the very centre, supplying the great
objective of every Baha'i endeavour as it once was the
objective of the Apostles and their teaching.
Here he recognises the Return of Christ indeed, the Return of
those qualities by which the Apostles identified Him on His
first coming -- His Return in spirit, in power, in His cause
and purpose. The individual is different, the names and dates,
ordinances and rites are changed. God now, as in the past,
tests His creatures; He provides touchstones by which
sincerity is tried. The external aspect of the teaching is
changed that men's lack of insight may be exposed, and the
continuity of bounties and blessings is hidden that only the
true-hearted may discern it.
The Prophecies are fulfilled! The Promises one and all
Matt. 16:17, John 13:35, and John 14:15.
in their fullness have been kept! the Ancient Faith of all
the ages is vindicated! The Call of Christ is heard through
all the earth summoning His faithful ones to join the Legions
of Light and work in the Name of Baha'u'llah for the
prosperity and salvation of mankind and the establishment of
the Kingdom of God on earth.
And this volume on the Bible and the Baha'i Faith is issued
that Christians everywhere, following the Guidance of the
Gospel, may pass into the Baha'i community, may hear the
promised words spoken to them 'Come, ye blessed of my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of
the world', and may at once arise for the regeneration of the
human race.
NOTE: During the preparation of the this electronic text
version Arabic numerals were substituted for most of the Roman
numerals used in the Biblical citations for ease of reading.
For the same reason some of the paragraphs in this version
have spaces after them. The word "to-day" was changed to
"today" to reflect current usage. The text has been spell-
checked and and scanned for errors but no rigorous
proofreading has been done as of this date of electronic text
creation: 05-98/dt
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