The Social Principles of Jesus Demand Personal Allegiance and Social Action
First Day: The Social Mission of Christians
Ye are the salt of the earth.... Ye are the light of the world. -- Matt.5:13, 14.
|Jesus speaks here with the consciousness of an historic mission to the whole of humanity. Yet it was a Nazarene carpenter speaking to a group of Galilean peasants and fishermen. Under the circumstances, and at the time, it was an utterance of the most daring faith -- faith in himself, faith in them, faith in what he was putting into them, faith in faith. Jesus failed and was crucified, first his body by his enemies, and then his spirit by the men who bore his name. But that failure was so amazing a success that today it takes an effort on our part to realize that it required any faith on his part to inaugurate the Kingdom of God and to send out his apostolate.|(7)
If the antiseptic and enlightening influence of the sincere followers of Jesus were eliminated from our American communities, what would be the presumable social effects?
Second Day: The Great Initiator of the Kingdom of God
At that season Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes: yea, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight. All things have been delivered unto me of my Father: and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. -- Matt.11:25-30.
This is one of the most thrilling passages in the Bible. It has always been understood as a call to intimate religion, as the appeal of a personal Saviour to those who are loaded with sin and weary of worldliness. But in fact it expresses the sense of a revolutionary mission to society.
Jesus had the consciousness of a unique relation to the Father, which made him the mediator of a new understanding of God and of life (v.27). This new insight was making a new intellectual alignment, leaving the philosophers and scholars as they were, and fertilizing the minds of simple people (v.25). It is an historical fact that the brilliant body of intellectuals of the first and second centuries was blind to what proved to be the most fruitful and influential movement of all times, and it was left to slaves and working men to transmit it and save it from suppression at the cost of their lives.
Then Jesus turns to the toiling and heavy laden people about him with the offer of a new kind of leadership -- none of the brutal self-assertion of the Caesars and of all conquerors here, but a gentle and humble spirit, and an obedience which was pleasure and brought release to the soul.
These words express his consciousness of being different, and of bearing within him the beginnings of a new spiritual constitution of humanity.
When individuals have really come under the new law of Christ, does Jesus make good?
Would he also make good if humanity based its collective life on the social principles which we have studied?
If the choice is between Caesar and Christ, which shall it be?
Third Day: The Kingdom of Truth
Pilate therefore entered again into the Praetorium, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered, Sayest thou this of thyself, or did others tell it thee concerning me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests, delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?
And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find no crime in him. -- John 18:33-38.
All kingdoms rest on force; formerly on swords and bayonets, now on big guns. To overthrow them you must prepare more force, bigger guns. Jesus was accused before Pilate of being leader of a force revolution aiming to make him king. He claimed the kingship, but repudiated the force. To his mind the absence of force resistance was characteristic of his whole undertaking. Instead, his power was based on the appeal and attractiveness of truth. When Pilate heard about |truth| he thought he had a sophist before him, one more builder of metaphysical systems, and expressed the skepticism of the man on the street: |What is truth?| But Jesus was not a teacher of abstract doctrine, whatever his expounders have made of him. His mind was bent on realities. If we substitute |reality| for |truth| in his saying here, we shall get near his thought.
Which is more durable, power based on force, or power based on spiritual coherence?
Fourth Day: A Mental Transformation
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. -- Rom.12:1, 2.
In the first century the Christians were a new social group, confronting the social order of the Roman Empire with a new religious faith, a revolutionary hope, and a powerful impulse of fraternity. Those who had come out of pagan society still felt the pull of its loose pleasures and moral maxims, and of its idolatry. Paul here challenges them to submit fully to the social assimilation of the new group. It involved an intellectual renewal, a new spiritual orientation, which must have been searching and painful. It involved the loss of many social pleasures, of business profit and civic honor, and it might at any time mean banishment, torture, and death. The altar symbol of sacrifice might become a scarlet reality. Yet see with what triumphant joy and assurance Paul speaks.
If a student should dedicate himself to the creation of a Christian social order today, would it still require an intellectual renewing?
Would it cramp him or enlarge him?
Fifth Day: The Distinctive Contribution of Christ
There was the true light, even the light which lighteth every man, coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. -- John 1:9-14, 17.
Here is the tragedy of the Gospel story, seen from a long perspective and stated in terms of Greek philosophy. The Light which lighteth every man, the Logos through whom God had created the kosmos, had come to this world in human form, and been rejected. But some had received him, and these had received a new life through him, which made them children of God. They had discovered in him a new kind of spiritual splendor, characterized by |grace and truth.| Even Moses had contributed only law to humanity; Christ was identified with grace and truth.
How would you paraphrase the statements of John to express the attitude of nineteen centuries to Christ?
What has he in fact done for those who have received him?
What would be the modern equivalent of |grace and truth| to express the distinctive contribution of Christ to human history?
Sixth Day: The Master of the Greatest Game
Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that hath endured such gainsaying of sinners against himself, that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls. -- Heb.12:1-3.
The man who wrote the little treatise from which this is quoted saw the history of humanity summed up in the live spirits who had the power of projection into the future. Faith is the quality of mind which sees things before they are visible, which acts on ideals before they are realities, and which feels the distant city of God to be more dear, substantial, and attractive than the edible and profitable present. Read Hebrews 11. So he calls on Christians to take up the same manner of life, and compares them with men running a race in an amphitheatre packed with all the generations of the past who are watching them make their record. But he bids them keep their eye on Jesus who starts them at the line and will meet them at the goal, and who has set the pace for good and fleet men for all time.
What is the social and evolutionary value of the men of |faith| in the sense of Hebrews 11?
Have we left Jesus behind us by this time?
Seventh Day: The Beginning of the Greatest Movement in History
Now after John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel.
And passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they left the nets, and followed him. And going on a little further, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending the nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after him. -- Mark 1:14-20.
Here we have the beginning of organized Christianity. This is the germinal cell of that vast social movement of which foreign missions, the establishment of the American Republic, and the modern labor movement are products. It began with repentance, faith, and self-sacrificing action, and it will always have to advance by the same means. To those four men Jesus was an incarnate challenge. He dared them to come, and promised to put their lives on a higher level. He stands over against us with the same challenge. He points to the blackened fields of battle, to the economic injustice and exploitation of industry, to the paganism and sexualism of our life. Is this old order of things to go on forever? Will our children, and their children, still be ground through the hopper? Or have we faith to adventure our life in a new order, the Kingdom of God?
Study for the Week
Has our study of the |Social Principles of Jesus| revealed a clear and consistent scheme of life, worthy of our respect?
We have seen that three convictions were axiomatic within Jesus, so that all his reasoning and his moral imperatives were based on them, just as all thought and work in physics is based on gravitation. These convictions were the sacredness of life and personality, the solidarity of the human family, and the obligation of the strong to stand up for all whose life is impaired or whose place within humanity is denied.
It can not be questioned that these convictions were a tremendous and spontaneous force in the spirit of Jesus. That alone suffices to align him with all idealistic minds, to whom man is more than matter, more than labor force, a mysterious participant of the spiritual powers of the universe. It aligns him with all men of solidaristic conviction, who are working for genuine community life in village and city, for a nation with fraternal institutions and fraternal national consciousness, and for a coming family of nations and races. It aligns him with all exponents of the democratic social spirit of our day, who feel the wrongs of the common people and are trying to make the world juster and more fraternal.
The best forces of modern life are converging along these lines. There is no contradiction between them and the spirit of Jesus. On the contrary, they are largely the product of his spirit, diffused and organized in the Western world. He was the initiator; we are the interpreters and agents. Nor has he been outstripped like an early inventor and discoverer whose crude work is honored only because others were able to improve on it. Quite the contrary; the more vividly these spiritual convictions glow in the heart of any man, the more will he feel that Jesus is still ahead, still the inspiring force. As soon as we get beyond theory to life and action, we know that we are dependent for the spiritual powers in modern life on the continued influence of Jesus Christ over the lives of others.
We saw in the second place that Jesus had a social ideal, the Reign of God on earth, in which God's will would be done. This ideal with him was not a Utopian and academic fancy, but the great prize and task of life toward which he launched all his energies. He called men to turn away from the evil ways of the old order, and to get a mind fit for the new. He set the able individuals to work, and put the spirit of intense labor and devotion into them. He proposed to effect the transition from the old order to the new by expanding the area of moral obligation and raising the standards of moral relationships.
By having such a social ideal at all, he draws away from all who are stationary and anchored in the world as it is; from all who locate the possibility of growth and progress in the individual only; and from all whose desire for perfection runs away from this world to a world beyond the grave.
By moving toward the new social order of the Kingdom of God with such wholeness of determination, he is the constant rebuke for all of us who are trying to live with a |divided allegiance,| straddling between the iniquities of force, profit, and inhumanity, and the fraternal righteousness of the Gospel we profess to believe. Jesus at least was no time-server, no Mr. Facing-both-ways, no hypocrite; and whenever we touch his elbow by inadvertence, a shiver of reality and self-contempt runs through us.
We saw in the third place that Jesus dealt with serious intelligence with the great human instincts that go wrong.
The capacity for leadership and the desire for it have fastened the damning institutions of tyranny and oppression on humanity and tied us up so completely that the rare historical chances of freedom and progress have been like a tumultuous and brief escape. Yet Jesus saw that ambition was not to be suppressed, but to be yoked to the service of society. In the past, society was allowed to advance and prosper only if this advanced the prosperity and security of its ruling classes. Jesus proposed that this be reversed, so that the leaders would have to earn power and honor by advancing the welfare of society by distinguished service at cost to themselves.
The desire for private property has been the chief outlet for selfish impulses antagonistic to public welfare. To gain private wealth men have slaughtered the forests, contaminated the rivers, drained the fertility of the soil, monopolized the mineral wealth of the country, enslaved childhood, double-yoked motherhood, exhausted manhood, hog-tied community undertakings, and generally acted as the dog in the manger toward humanity. Jesus opposed accumulation without moral purpose, the inhumanity of property differences, and the fatal absorption of money-making. Yet he was not ascetic. It is probably safe to say that he would not be against private property in so far as it serves the common good, and not against public property at all.
Like ambition and the property instinct, the religious impulse may go wrong, and subject society to its distortions or tyranny. Jesus always stood for an ethical and social outcome of religion. He sought to harness the great power of religion to righteousness and love. With a mind so purely religious we might expect that he would make all earthly and social interests subservient to personal religion. The fact that he reversed it, seems clear proof that he was socially minded and that the Kingdom of God as a right social organism was the really vital thing to him.
We have seen, finally, that Jesus had a deep sense of the sin and evil in the world. Human nature is frail; men of evil will are powerful; organized evil is in practical control. Consequently social regeneration involves not only growth but conflict. The way to the Kingdom of God always has been and always will be a via dolorosa. The cross is not accidental, but is a law of social progress.
These conceptions together seem to shape up into a consistent conception of social life. It is not the modern scientific scheme, but a religious view of life. But it blends incomparably better with modern science than the scholastic philosophy or theology of an age far nearer to us than Jesus. It is strange how little modern knowledge has to discount in the teachings of Jesus. As Romanes once pointed out,(8) Plato followed Socrates and lived amidst a blaze of genius never since equalled; he is the greatest representative of human reason in the direction of spirituality unaided by revelation; |but the errors in the dialogues reach to absurdity in reason and to sayings shocking to the moral sense.|
The writer of this little book has come back to an intensive study of Jesus at intervals of years, and every time it was like a fresh revelation, leaving a sense of mental exhilaration and a new sense of joy in truth. Never was there a feeling that Jesus was exhausted and had nothing more to say.
For a true valuation of his intellectual contribution to mankind we must remember that we have not a page of his own writing. We are dependent on the verbal memory of his disciples; so far as we know, nothing was written down for years. The fragments which survived probably had to stand the ordeal of translation from the Aramaic to the Greek. Simply from the point of view of literature, it is an amazing thing that anything characteristic in Jesus survived at all. But it did. His sayings have the sparkle of genius and personality; the illustrations and epigrams which he threw off in fertile profusion are still clinchers; even his humor plays around them. Critics undertake to fix on the genuine sayings by internal evidence. Only a mind of transcendent originality could win its way to posterity through such obstructions.
But we ought not to forget the brevity of our material when we try to build up a coherent conception of his outlook on society. There is little use in stickling on details. The main thing is the personality of Jesus, his religious and ethical insight into the nature and needs of the social life of mankind, the vital power of religious conviction which he was able to put behind righteousness, and the historical force which he set going through history.
From the indirect influences which Jesus Christ set in motion, no man or woman or child in America can escape. We live on him. Even those who attack the Christian Church, or who repudiate what they suppose Christ to stand for, do so with spiritual weapons which they have borrowed from him. But it does make a great difference whether the young men and women of our day give their conscious and intelligent allegiance to Christianity or hold aloof in misunderstanding. Without them the Christian movement will mark time on old issues. With them it will dig new irrigation channels and string the wires for new power transmission.
In return, Christianity can do more for students than they themselves are likely to realize in youth. Men grow tired. Their moral enthusiasm flags. Scientific sociology may remain academic, cold, and ineffective. We need inspiration, impulse, will power, and nothing can furnish such steady accessions of moral energy as living religion. Science and the Christian faith combined are strong. Those who succeed in effecting a combination of these two without insincerity or cowardice are the coming leaders.
If a student's mind has given inward consent to the teachings of Jesus in this course of study, that constitutes an appeal for personal discipleship. Can we go with Christ in living out these principles, and meanwhile draw on his spiritual wealth to build up our growing life? If there is a student who can not at present affirm all that the Christian Church holds concerning the nature of Christ, why should he not approach him as the earliest disciples did, by personal love and obedience, following him and cooperating with him in the business of the Kingdom of God, and arriving in time at full faith in his Messiahship? A great and firm faith is the product and prize of a lifetime of prayer and loving action. |Light is sown to the righteous.| As we gather the wisdom of life, and find that while we move from knowledge to knowledge, we are also advancing from mystery to mystery, many of us will be ready and glad to join in the highest affirmation of faith about Jesus Christ, in whom we have learned to see God.
|If Jesus Christ is a man,
And only a man, I say
That of all mankind I cleave to him,
And to him I cleave alway.
|If Jesus Christ is a God,
And the only God, I swear
I will follow him through heaven and hell,
The earth, the sea, and the air.|
-- RICHARD WATSON GILDER.
If Christianity henceforth is to discharge its full energy in the regeneration of social life, it especially needs the allegiance of college men and women who have learned to understand to some degree the facts and laws of human society. The development of what is called |Social Christianity| or |the social gospel,| is a fusion between the new understanding created by the social sciences, and the teachings and moral ideals of Christianity. This combination was inevitable; it has already registered social effects of the highest importance; if it can win the active minds of the present generation of college students, it will swing a part of the enormous organized forces of the Christian Church to bear on the social tasks of our American communities, and that will help to create the nobler America which we see by faith.
Christians have never fully understood Christianity. A purer comprehension of its tremendous contents is always necessary. Think what it would signify to a local community if all sincere Christian people in it should interpret their obligation in the social terms which we have been using; if they should seek not only their own salvation, but the reign of God in their own town; if they should cultivate the habit of seeing a divine sacredness in every personality, should assist in creating the economic foundations for fraternal solidarity, and if, as Christians, they should champion the weak in their own community. We need a power of renewal in our American communities that will carry us across the coming social transition, and social Christianity can supply it by directing the plastic force of the old faith of our fathers to the new social tasks.
Jesus was the initiator of the Kingdom of God. It is a real thing, now in operation. It is within us, and among us, gaining ground in our intellectual life and in our social institutions. It overlaps and interpenetrates all existing organizations, raising them to a higher level when they are good, resisting them when they are evil, quietly revolutionizing the old social order and changing it into the new. It suffers terrible reverses; we are in the midst of one now; but after a time it may become apparent that a master hand has turned the situation and laid the basis of victory on the wrecks of defeat. The Kingdom of God is always coming; you can never lay your hand on it and say, |It is here.| But such fragmentary realizations of it as we have, alone make life worth living. The memories which are still sweet and dear when the fire begins to die in the ashes, are the memories of days when we lived fully in the Kingdom of Heaven, toiling for it, suffering for it, and feeling the stirring of the godlike and eternal life within us. The most humiliating and crushing realization is that we have betrayed our heavenly Fatherland and sold out for thirty pieces of silver. We often mistake it. We think we see its banner in the distance, when it is only the bloody flag of the old order. But a man learns. He comes to know whether he is in God's country, especially if he sees the great Leader near him.
Suggestions for Thought and Discussion
I. The Social Principles of Jesus
1. Sum up the social principles of Jesus which we have worked out in this course.
2. Do they seem incisive? Would they demand far-reaching social changes? What changes?
3. What conceptions acquired in philosophical and social science studies connect fruitfully with the principles of Jesus? Do any scientific conceptions conflict with the essential ideas of Jesus?
II. Social Salvation
1. What is your frank estimate of the value of the social principles of Jesus as a religious and ethical basis for the regeneration of society?
2. Does the spiritual development of modern life tend toward the position of Jesus or away from it?
3. What opportunities and methods does modern life offer for carrying out these principles in our social order?
4. If society cannot be saved under the spiritual leadership of Jesus, how can it be saved?
III. The Leader
1. As this course proceeded, has our respect or reverence for Jesus Christ increased or diminished? In what ways?
2. Would it be possible to join the forward Christian forces in working for the Kingdom of God even if the theological questions are still unsolved in our minds?
3. What seem now the best methods of carrying out these principles in our own community and in the world?
IV. For Special Discussion
1. Does the salvation of society seem to make the salvation of the individual unnecessary or trivial? Have you lost interest in it?
2. How should social and personal salvation connect?
3. What would a loyal religious dedication to Christ and Christianity mean to our scientific social intelligence?
4. What would it mean to the course of our life?