The Mind of the Master: The Great Galilæan. Ii


THE mediævalists—as their brethren, the modern Catholics — cannot face one fact especially about the historical Christ which is ultimately the most arresting in its significance. Modern Protestant churchmen shrink almost equally from it. It is that Christ was an ignorant man. Catholic doctors have taught that the knowledge in the brain of the child Jesus in the cradle was infinite, and that had he pleased he could have argued with an Einstein or anticipated the discoveries of Edison. More modern theologians, shrinking from this, have elaborately argued that the person Christ was not without all knowledge, but that he deliberately limited it in himself, as it is thought that by the Incarnation he deliberately limited in some respects his divine power.

All these are the speculations of theorists, who are driven to them by the necessity of supporting a case. They are fantastic excursions into fairyland. The fact is that the historical Jesus, who steps on the world’s stage at the preaching of John the Baptist, was what we should unequivocally call to-day an ignorant man. We have a considerable number of instances of the ignorance of Jesus. He seems to have believed that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, that there had been a prophet Jonah who had spent three days and nights in a whale’s belly, and that the Old Testament story of the Jewish kings and patriarchs was good history. It would, of course, have been extraordinary had he thought otherwise; but the portrait of the traditional Jesus has so obscured the historical figure behind it that it comes to devout persons as a shock to put his ignorance into plain language. Thus Jesus no doubt had no idea as to the existence of the New World, the most crude knowledge as to the properties and functions of the human body, and an ignorance of the heavens and the earth which would seem abysmal to a modern schoolboy.

It is well to bear in mind here, however, that the really arresting thing is not that he was ignorant, but that he escaped in a most remarkable manner the results of his ignorance. An ignorant human mind is not, as a rule, a blank slate. It is a slate blank of true knowledge, but it is a slate scribbled all over with writing, the writing of prejudice and superstition which distort the judgment of its owner. The trouble with a savage is not that he does not know his multiplication table or his elementary geography, but that he thinks he knows the exact number of devils which roam the world, and that disease can be driven from a sick person by the administration of some nauseating filth or the beating of tom-toms. Jesus, while ignorant enough, had not a distorted mind. He had, on the contrary, an unusual and penetrating common sense which set him head and shoulders above the men of his day, and, as a matter of fact, still keeps him there above the men of our own.

To return, however, to the question of mere knowledge, not only is it pretty evident that Jesus had no particular knowledge of biology, or of science in any of its forms, or of history, above the abysmal ignorance of his day, but it is also fairly clear, and of much greater importance to us, that he had no particular knowledge of God. Herein we reach something which the most modern of modern Protestant churchmen have never dared face. A convention of modern churchmen, recently held in England, horrified the orthodox by asserting unusually unequivocally a good deal of what has already been written in these pages, but it maintained that the great contribution of Jesus to ancient and modern thought was his statement that God was our Father. The Fatherhood of God was, they said, Christ’s revelation to the world.

But that doctrine was not so much a revelation as a guess, and it was a guess that was wrong. If modern science has shown us anything at all, it has made unquestionably plain the fact that, if there be a Supreme Being at all, it is only by the greatest possible stretch of imagination that one can conceive of him as in any sense exercising fatherly qualities toward us. Thus Jesus beautifully said that not one sparrow falls to the ground without its death affecting the Father’s heart, but we know that, if that Father exists, he has contemplated for æons countless stark tragedies of animal life without lifting a little finger to prevent or ameliorate them. Nor is this all. Jesus said that the very hairs of our heads are all numbered by that same ever-watchful and loving Father. Does he, then, number the microscopic cells in the embryo which are blindly developing into a moron or a criminal lunatic? Jesus said that an earthly father would not give his son who asked for bread a stone, and that just so our heavenly Father knew how to give good gifts to them that asked him. But there are really no two opinions about the value of imprecatory prayer. Prayer may subjectively benefit the one who prays, but prayer never turned aside the bullet from a modern rifle or saved a man who fell from a liner in mid-ocean and who could not swim. There are good Christians among us who shrink from such a bald statement, but we know that it is simply so. Jesus deduced that our heavenly Father was good because he made his rain to fall upon the just and unjust, but the illustration, considered scientifically, simply provokes a smile from a modern mind. Our heavenly Father has nothing immediately to do with the rain at all. If he did have, we could only conclude that he uses his power exceedingly foolishly. He gives millions of gallons to the little salt-water fishes who do not want it, while a land, no distance at all away in his eyes, is suffering a drought causing the death of millions.

This doctrine of a Father-God is now centuries old; we have accepted it indeed from the lips of the historical Christ, but on the assumed authority of the traditional Christ, whose voice was none other than the voice of God; and it is a comfortable doctrine. But comfortable or not does not matter; the fact is that it is not true. Jesus had no special knowledge of God. He dredged his knowledge of him out of the depths of a peculiarly sincere, pellucid, and loving heart, but it was a human heart at best. The fact that the man Jesus believed in a heavenly Father is not the last word on the subject and does not place the matter beyond dispute for all time.


It is of much practical concern that Jesus was essentially an ignorant man. He was the child of an amazingly crude and ignorant age, whose crudity and ignorance it is difficult to exaggerate. Its very crudity and ignorance remove from us, in point of fact, all real difficulty in reading the Gospels. From the fishermen to the then accounted learned Pharisee, who constituted his band of apostles, there is no doubt, as Dr. Sanday says, that what the disciples thought they saw when they watched our Lord’s miracles was not what we should have thought we had seen had we been there. A child of ten would give a very different account of an entertainment by a conjurer from that given by an adult of fifty. A savage gives a very different account of a phonograph from that given by a civilized man. But it is exactly the implications of this crudity and ignorance to which Jesus, alone of his age, rises superior. We can understand that what seemed a miracle to the disciples might have seemed to us but the exhibition of a superior and undaunted will.

Those of us who have traveled in savage lands have seen many such miracles. A doctor can cure with a bottle of colored water, or even a few firm words, a savage who is about to lie down and die, and who if left to himself would die, and concerning whose illness and death his savage friends would relate the most astounding stories of supernatural happenings and appearances. It is, in point of fact, neither the colored water nor the formula which cures him, though the savage will think that it is. It is the impact of an unsuperstitious and common-sense modern mind upon a superstitious and nonsensical one. Thus even to-day do the blind receive their sight and the lame walk. No less may common sense and an undistorted mind have used a little clay or a formula in Christ’s day.

It was, apparently, this superiority and clarity of mind which provoked the hostility of every vested interest and authority in Christ’s day. It was not any revelation that he made or the exhibition of any peculiar knowledge which brought him to the cross, but it was simply his common sense in an age of fanatical nonsense. The miracle of it would be startling enough and disturbing enough to bring him, or any minister of his who exhibited it, to the equivalent of the cross in our day. It is worth our closest examination.

For, while Jesus was an ignorant man, he was also, in the true meaning of the word, the wisest of men. How he came to be such is beyond our knowing, and a like phenomenon astonishes us as much to-day as it did the crowd in Galilee. How or why a Napoleon is born in an obscure island village, of parents undistinguished by any particular military or political genius, or why a William Blake is born in a family which never wrote a line of poetry, is beyond our understanding. And it is much the same in the case of Christ.

It is a dazzling wonder how the mind of Christ came to be so pellucid and unbiased. An ignorant Jew, born in a crude and superstitious age, without having had, apparently, any opportunity to escape from it, he rivaled the men who possessed the greatest learning of his age in having a perfectly undistorted mind on every question. We may still envy him that and stand in adoration before it. Our own minds, after a lapse of two thousand years, are still incredibly distorted and incapable of sane judgments. The common sense of a question is the last thing that we see, and the more vital the question, the less capable we are of treating it in a rational manner. Who was rational upon the nature of Germans during the Great War? What temperance advocate is rational upon the subject of prohibition? What theologian is rational upon the subject of God?

Let us take an example. Countless preachers have dilated on the wisdom shown by Jesus when they brought him the tribute money and asked him whether or no they should pay tribute to Cæsar. But there was no wisdom, in the accepted sense of the word, in his answer. That was what staggered them. When they held out their penny, their own petty minds were as confused and angry as a hive of disturbed bees on every conceivable and inconceivable issue of politics and religion. A clever man would have entered lengthily into a discussion as to whether the head of Cæsar on the coin did or did not break the law of God with respect to the making of graven images; he would have discussed learnedly the implications of the text and have argued that while, of course, the nature of God was unchangeable, it was possible that, he might ‘wink’ in the peculiar circumstances of the case. Saint Paul would certainly have done so. A really clever historian would have spoken for hours upon the exact meaning of sovereignty and political right. And so on, and so on, endlessly. But Jesus snapped at once to the answer, which was not a learned answer, or an answer to suit the times, or an answer at all so far as these men were concerned. He gave them sheer common sense when they had expected a rigmarole of wise nonsense. And, as always, they were dismayed and at a loss before it.

We tend to congratulate ourselves on seeing for our part the amazing common sense of Jesus, and we can even chuckle with amusement at the discomfiture of the Jews when he wades through their ridiculous Sabbatarianism and the like, but are we, in point of fact, wholly lined up with him? Did this radiant common sense flash out only once or twice, or was it characteristic of all his sayings and doings? And, if characteristic of all his sayings and doings, whose side are we really on, the side of him and common sense, or the side of the world and fanatical nonsense?

Imagine Jesus arraigned before the Supreme Allied War Council, in 1914. He stands there, a little commonplace man, who might, to judge by his bearing and dress, be indeed nothing but a peasant carpenter. But his eye is clear. It does not see things through the lenses of centuries of hate or political expediency or worldly well-being. It is not the eye of a great general, or of a business man who sees immense opportunities for great business, or of a newspaper proprietor, or even of a mother crazed with grief. He says: ‘Love your enemies.’ ‘What!’ exclaims the great, general. ‘In the face of an enemy armed to the teeth?’ ‘Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also,’ replies Christ. ‘But what of atrocities?’ demands the politician. ‘Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you,’returns the Christ imperturbably. Is this common sense? Would not the War Council have treated such a man in almost the same way as the Jews and Romans treated Christ?

Or take another startling case. Here is a woman taken in adultery, ‘in the very act.’ Imagine her dragged before a circle of our police officials, our Bishop Mannings, our secretaries of societies for the suppression of vice, the Pope himself, if you will. Two thousand years have elapsed since it first happened, years in which we have learned psychology, years in which we have studied the curious spectacle of the mixed impulses of the human mind in the light of our knowledge of the unexpected workings of inherited sex impulses and repressions and the like; years, too, in which we have had plenty of opportunity to observe what terrors and crimes can shelter under a respectably legal and even spiritually solemnized union of man and woman, and what nobility and devotion there may be where all this is lacking. Is there one high-placed official among us who would turn away his face not to shame the trembling woman, and say gently, ‘Neither do I condemn thee’? Would not one and all conceive it to be their public duty to act otherwise? Would not one and all, in summing up, argue theologically, or from the point of view of moral science, or legally from the words of the law, that while pitying, etc., etc., and making every allowance for, etc., etc., it was their painful duty to . . . commit . . . or refuse the Holy Communion ... or ... ?

Did Jesus exhibit common sense? Was his mind clear, undistorted, pellucid, clean as the flash of a sword?

That we have hitherto unreservedly accepted that it was not is common knowledge. So far as the churches are concerned, books have been written and heaven only knows how many sermons preached to show that he spoke in a parabolic or a mystical manner, or in a manner indicating what our general mental attitude should be, but not, of course, how we ought particularly to behave in every instance. It is to their undying shame that scarcely one prominent Christian minister, in Europe or America, dared to say, ‘Love the Germans,’ during the Great War. A prominent English ecclesiastic has not yet wholly escaped from the opprobrium he incurred by saying, in 1914, that the Kaiser, as he had known him, had been a not unpleasant and even a religious man; and the writer knows an obscure curate, the least pugnacious and dangerous of men, who was driven from his curacy and stood actually in need of police protection because he invited his congregation to pray for the enemy dying and to have sympathy for enemy women in suspense and bereavement. And when administrators of law and order are confronted with the literal keepers of the Sermon on the Mount they imprison them as conscientious objectors or hound them to exile or death as dangerous communists.

If, however, we unreservedly accept that the mind of Jesus was an undistorted mind, we shall feel that the world has as great need for his common sense to-day as it had in the days of his earthly life. This is his great contribution to the history of life and manners. It is for this that we can bow down before him almost as before a God. There are ten thousand questions which wreck and ruin human life on the earth for which we need the common sense of Jesus. Our marriage laws, and also the matter of our armaments, would be straightened out if we could approach these questions with minds untainted by inherited superstitions, by national and class prejudices, or by dire mistrustful forebodings. We argue at immense length as to what he did or did not mean by some traditional saying, and as to what implications follow from it. We vest his words with an authority which they never had and which, probably, they were never meant to have. As a result of such a confused approach to him, the world has experienced such horrors as the Spanish Inquisition and a modern statute book. If we need the traditional Christ as the God of our imagination and the inspirer of beauty, we need the historical Christ as the God of common sense.


The common sense of the Great Galilæan was never more strikingly exhibited than in his whole attitude toward sin and the forgiveness of sin, and upon no subject was he in more definite opposition to the ideas of his time. Yet, while the churches that call him Master credit him, contrary both to reason and to evidence, with all wisdom, they have not accepted in the least his common sense in this. They follow, on the contrary, the Old Testament point of view of his historicenemies. They have, moreover, so successfully imposed their mind upon the world at large that even our statute books agree with Moses rather than with Christ. And the churches, with their traditional portrait, have so far displaced the historical Jesus that we are unaware that it is so.

The Old Testament regards sin as principally an offense in the eyes of Jehovah which requires purging by a bloody sacrifice. In the days of the historical Jesus, the temple courts were a shambles in the process of this expiation. Nor is it too much to say that the whole attitude of the traditional Church is a following of the Old Testament rather than a following of Jesus. In the first place, it is not possible to deny that all the weight of traditional theology has been placed upon the cross. For this reason the cross became the symbol of Christianity, and the three great historic branches of the Church have with equal emphasis insisted that what Christ did upon the cross was the reason for his coming into the world at all. The offering of himself as a sacrifice for sin was by far the most important aspect of his work. That the Mass is the centre of Catholic faith and devotion needs surely no proof, but Protestant churches no less than the Catholic have asserted that what the Mass stands for is the very backbone of their being. It is not a Catholic or Greek, but a Presbyterian, confession of faith which says that ‘the Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself . . . hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father; and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him. ’

What can wash away my stain?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

The blood of Jesus is more efficacious blood than that of sheep and lambs — that is all.

Once again, let us make no mistake about it: this aspect of things is as old as the Gospels — that is to say, as old as the traditional Christ himself. It is this which is the substance, almost the sum, of Saint Paul’s teaching. It is for this reason that he cares so little to relate to his converts the parables or the miracles of the historical Jesus. It is not too much to say that it is for this that he throws overboard the whole import of the moral teaching of Jesus. He does not say, ‘Blessed are the poor,’but ‘Be not slothful in business.’ He does not say, ‘Consider the lilies,’ but ‘If any would not work, neither should he eat.’ He does not say, ‘Love your enemies,’ but ‘Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.’ He sends a slave back to his master — which would, however, be a small thing if he did not send sinners to the Cross rather than to the Sermon on the Mount. But that is his whole message. That the first man, Adam, sinned, and through him sin, leading to destruction, became the heritage of all men; that the second Adam was the Christ from Heaven, the man Jesus in whom ‘ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. . . . And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross.’ ‘We preach Christ crucified.’ ‘Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel.’ And the preaching of the Gospel is the preaching of ‘Christ, and him crucified.’

That Christ offered a bloody sacrifice of himself; that he paid a price; that sinners are lost eternally unless they are washed in the blood of Jesus; and that Christ is preëminently the Saviour through his own blood — this is the key message of Protestantism, as it is the basis of the Catholic sacraments. Yet absolutely nothing of all this appears upon the lips or is revealed in the mind of the historical Jesus. It is a direct development of Old Testament teaching and not of his. The historical Jesus calls himself a Light to reveal God; a Shepherd to lead a flock from an old pasture to a new one; Bread for the soul’s hunger; Water for the soul’s thirst; Leaven to ferment the world’s sodden life; Salt to keep life wholesome; the Physician of men’s diseases; the Vine, the Door, the Strong Man, the Bridegroom — but he never calls himself the World’s Victim or the World’s Priest.

In the second place, it is most noteworthy that the historical Jesus has a different category of sins from that of the Old Testament or of Paul or of ecclesiastical writers after him. The sins which occupied the attention of Jesus were hypocrisy, worldliness, intolerance, and selfishness; the sins which occupy the principal attention of the Church, as everybody knows from experience, are impurity, murder, the drinking of alcohol, swearing, and the neglect of the Church’s services and ordinances. A man may be a notoriously sharp business man, a hard man, a man in whose home there is neither love between husband and wife nor love between master and servants, but he may be an excellent churchman for all that. His minister may have an uneasy suspicion that he is hypocritical, but he will denounce him from the pulpit only if he keeps a mistress or gets drunk in the street. But the scribes and Pharisees did not keep mistresses or get drunk in the street. Yet the denunciation of them by Christ was shocking in its virulence. They prayed, they relieved the poor, they kept the Ten Commandments, they set the Church before themselves and the State, but he said to them: ‘Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?1

It is not that the historical Christ has nothing to say about sin. It would not be an exaggeration to say that half of the ‘Q’ document is taken up with a discussion of it and its forgiveness. But the reader of Paul’s Epistles literally rubs his eyes as he turns the pages of ‘Q.’ The kernel of the difference lies in this: that the sins which Christ denounced were social and of the spirit, and the sins that Paul denounces are theological and of the body. Of course the distinction can be fined down, argumentatively, on either side; but it is sins such as the various kinds of impurity and drunkenness that religion to-day denounces, while it was sins which ground down the widow and the orphan, which caused his little ones to stumble, or which made of men ‘whited sepulchres,’ which called forth the anger of Christ. It was man’s inhumanity to man much more than man’s offenses against God which roused his wrath. If he ever took the scourge of small cords to cleanse the temple, it was not so much, as religion has it, because the temple of God was defiled, as because that which should have been a place of safe retreat for the poor of all nations had been made a den of thieves.

The full import of all this is a proposition enormously more startling. Jesus did not regard as sin at all a great deal of what the modern Church calls sin. Why did the religious leaders of his day call Jesus the friend of publicans and harlots? Let us translate the thing into modern speech. Why might virulent prohibitionists call a modern minister the friend of drunkards? There might of course be nothing more in it than ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ There might be in it the implication that the minister was a friend of drunkards in order to effect their conversion to prohibition, when the phrase would probably carry some such adjective as ‘good,’ as it was said of many broad-minded padres during the war that they were good fellows. Or there might be the terrible suspicion that the minister was tolerant of a glass of beer; or even the damning accusation that he did not think a tot of whiskey sinful. Which of all these accusations prompted the taunting of Christ? We may quite reasonably argue that it was none other than the last. It certainly signified something. It certainly was not in praise of him. There remains the last: that he did not think the publicans and harlots sinful as the scribes and Pharisees thought them sinful.

Let us read again what he says: ‘John came neither eating nor drinking. . . . The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say . . . a friend of publicans and sinners.’ Why did Jesus eat and drink? Was it not because he saw nothing wrong in either eating or drinking? Why was he so often found eating and drinking with publicans and harlots? Was it not because he liked the company of publicans and harlots? Maybe he liked their company a great deal better than the company of his critics. Maybe he did not think their sins quite so blatant or damning as the sins of the religious men of his day. Perhaps he thought an honest harlot refreshing company after that of a hypocritical priest. Perhaps he was a friend of publicans and sinners because he genuinely liked them, not as a pitying philanthropist, not as the redeeming Son of God, but as a human being.

Then there are the occasional anecdotes which have strayed, we do not know whence, into the Gospels. They were unquestionably anecdotes commonly told about Jesus by the crowd of his day, and the crowd may have exaggerated, it may even have lied, as crowds generally do. But there is often more truth in the legends of the common people than in the sober statements of learned men. And it certainly seems here as if the Evangelists inserted these things because they were too strong to be resisted, or because they did not understand them, or because they thought they might be interpreted in the newer theological manner. But why did Christ say to the woman taken in adultery, ‘Neither do I condemn thee’? It is always presumed that he had some subtle reason, for her reformation or for the discomfiture of her accusers; what if it were merely the simple truth? What if to his unbiased and farseeing eye there had been reasons for her moral weakness, reasons which he felt he could not condemn? What if this spiritual genius saw that even the harlotry of a harlot did not kill the living impulses of a soul as did the theological subtleties of the chief priests? The point can hardly be pressed home more strongly than by contrasting the attitude of some modern preacher of righteousness. The fact of adultery, grieving God and damning the soul to Hell, would be the one thing that mattered. No extenuating circumstances could in his eyes do away with her rightful condemnation. Under no circumstances would he say, ‘Neither do I condemn thee.’ And is not this because this particular sin has an aspect for a modern minister which it had not for the historical Christ?

Or take the question of the forgiveness of sin. If we can believe the records, Jesus forgave a number of people their sins, from the man sick of a palsy to the thief upon the cross, but in no single instance did he allege as the reason for forgiveness what is urged by the modern Church as necessary. The most outstanding and all but incredible example occurs in a no less known and widely used document than the Lord’s Prayer. It is amazing that the import of it has escaped us. Here was the Great Galilæan teaching his followers to ask forgiveness of their God. And on what are they to base their plea for God’s forgiveness? A Salvation Army captain would say, ‘Pray thus: Father, forgive us our trespasses because of the sacrifice of thy Son on the cross.’ A Catholic priest would say, ‘Pray thus: Father, forgive us our trespasses because we unfeignedly believe in the Church and have used, or are willing to use, the sacraments.’ There can hardly be a minister who would not teach his people to say, ‘Pray thus: Forgive us our trespasses because we repent and have faith in thy Son and will not trespass again.’ But Jesus said: ‘Pray ye, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.’ This can only mean that the reason we should urge for our own forgiveness is that we have forgiven others. It might even mean that the measure of forgiveness we should demand is to be the measure of forgiveness we have granted. In either case the underlying thought is, as it were, social and not theological; it is as far removed as possible from the idea of an angry God who needs propitiation through the blood of a victim. Even more strikingly it does more than suggest, it definitely implies, another attitude toward sin altogether.

And so with the rest of the stories. It is a mere assumption that Jesus forgave the sick of the palsy because of his faith or the faith of his friends. Apparently he simply saw that the sickness of the man’s spirit stood in greater need of healing than the sickness of his body. He waits for neither repentance nor faith, still less for theological acceptance of the atonement, but as simply as he says later, ‘Rise up and walk,’ he says now, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee.’ It was as if he freed the man from a distorted mind as he later freed him from a distorted body. Or the thief on the cross. It is mere supposition that the thief either repented of his robberies or accepted the atonement or made any gesture whatsoever toward the theological conception of forgiveness. He simply echoed the current speech of the crowd that had heard Jesus talk of his spiritual kingdom. That was enough for Jesus. As to the woman who anointed him in the house of the Pharisee, — a harlot, it is presumed, of many loves, — he said that her sins were forgiven ‘for she loved much.’ What does this mean but that a loving heart toward men, even in harlotry, was enough to occasion her forgiveness? The common sense of it is that she must have cheated, she must have lied, she must have been hypocritical as all harlots sometimes have to be. These were bad ‘sins’ which impeded her spiritual life, but they were eclipsed by the fact that she had honestly loved, and that she loved even a man scorned by the rich and religious, increasingly facing an enmity which might mean death.

There are so many straws blowing on this wind that one does not know how to reckon them all. There is the gospel of forgiveness ‘until seventy times seven.’ to which nothing like justice has ever been done. Christ’s words do not admit of any modification or belittling. They were apparently meant to be applicable to all the varied circumstances of life. The only hope for a sinner, Jesus thought, lay in other men’s habitually and constantly forgiving him, as indeed their own hope of forgiveness lay in such conduct. ‘How often, O Lord, shall we forgive a German submarine captain who sinks a hospital ship? Until he has sunk seven hospital ships?’ ‘Verily I say unto you, until he has sunk seventy times seven.’ ‘How often, O Lord, shall we forgive a man who has sinned against a woman by making the mistake of asking her to marry him? Seven times?' ‘Never!’ says the modern priest; ‘it is irrevocable.’ ‘ Never!’ says the modern magistrate; ‘let him pay alimony for the rest of his life.’


Such illustrations as these will be read with a smile, but they are not written with a smile. The implication of them is much too serious. The implication of the Christian religion is that the sin behind them is too monstrous and fettering, too altogether a question of an outraged God, for any other attitude save its attitude to be possible. The sacrifice of blood is a necessity. But all this is additional, not to say foreign, to the mind we dimly glimpse of the historical Christ. His was the mind that argued apparently in some such way as the following; ‘The righteousness of the spiritually alive man must exceed the righteousness of the normally accepted religious man. He cannot enter into the real Kingdom of the Spirit unless it does. Thus the normally religious man says, “You shall do no murder,” because that is the commandment of God, and its breach incurs his wrath. But I say unto you that it is enormously more important that a man shall not be angry with his brother. It is useless for him to approach God at all unless peace reigns in his heart. The normally religious man says, “You shall not commit adultery,” because it is a breach of the law of God and incurs his anger. But I say unto you that for a man to lust after a woman, like a brute beast only, is just as harmful to his spiritual life as you think the sin of adultery is.’

The man who said these words was not, if we may say it so, a theologicallyminded man, but a socially-minded man. His social-mindedness was also a spiritual-minded ness. It soared infinitely above the petty-mindedness of the Church in our own or any age. He was two thousand years and more before his time. It is small wonder that neither his followers nor his enemies understood him in his own day, for we who would be as liberal as he fail to understand him in ours. He went lonely in those days, and he goes lonely in these. His is, and was, the loneliness of a spiritual genius whose like has not been seen on earth, and whose like we may well think we shall never see again.

In the face even of such scanty evidence as we have, we cannot doubt that the historical Christ would dissent as vehemently from the judgments the Church to-day makes in the name of the traditional Christ as he dissented from those of the scribes and Pharisees two thousand years ago. To him the sins that matter are the sins that hamper the growth of this spiritual life in a man’s own soul, or that, committed by him, hamper the growth of his brother’s soul. It is thus of man, rather than of God, that man has primarily to ask forgiveness, and he can neither ask forgiveness nor expect it unless he has forgiven. We cannot doubt that part of the topsy-turviness of the world to Jesus was precisely this. A man might grind the faces of the poor and be accounted righteous if he wore a small box upon his head containing a few words of Holy Scripture. A woman might have no love in her heart toward her husband and even nag at him from morning till night, and be accounted righteous if she had been married by the Law of Moses and kept the observances of that law. But a man whom the hard law of necessity had driven to unpopular service of the Roman conqueror, no matter what else he was or did, was a publican and outcast. A man who foolishly drank too many cups of the good wine of the earth in the hours of his necessary ease was damned before God, no matter what his other virtues. A woman who committed the animal act of copulation outside the formal law was damned to eternity, no matter how generous and loving her heart might be.

He would think that we had got the whole thing topsy-turvy. He would think that we were condoning glaring sins in our haste to condemn moral weaknesses which are not, rightly understood, sins at all. He would think that modern Christians, in their eagerness not to bring a frown upon the face of their heavenly Father, had forgotten the evil of bringing tears into the eyes of their brethren. He would think that in pleading the merits of his death upon the cross for our forgiveness we had forgotten the essential teaching of his Gospel. He would not draw aside, as if there were nothing to be said for them, from the prostitutes of Piccadilly, or turn from jovial men whose main fault is their incredible blindness to the things that really matter in life. But he might enter, with a scourge of small cords in his hand, the doors of Westminster Abbey.