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CHRISTIANITY

the righteous remnant (Isa. liii., Ezek. xxxvi.-xxxvii.). By the strong emphasis upon righteousness, the tribal Lord of Israel was revealed as the universal God, of one relationship to all men. This monotheism was not primarily cosmological nor metaphysical, but ethical. The Jews showed little capacity for abstract reasoning and never pursued their inquiries to the discovery of ultimate principles. Thus they did not develop a systematic cosmology, nor formulate a system of metaphysics. Their religion was pre-eminently “theocratic”; God was thought of as King, enthroned in heaven and supreme. In the beginning as a tribal deity his powers were limited and he was involved in the fortunes of his people. But as the conception of Yahweh was deepened and broadened, and, especially after the development of ethical monotheism, not only was he believed to possess power sufficient to ensure the triumph of his chosen people, but to be the creator and ruler of all things in heaven and on earth, the God whom all peoples should worship and obey.

But the prophetic teaching was obscured in part by the nationalism of the prophets themselves, who exalted Israel as at once God’s instrument and the peculiar object of his love; and in part by the triumph of a legal-ritualistic sacrificial system. In the downfall of Jerusalem, the experiences of the exile in Babylon, and the return to Judaea, the nation was transformed into a church. Apart from the brief Maccabaean period, the intense patriotism of the people centred in the ecclesiastical organization. As a result, cult and organization and code hardened, forming a shell which proved strong enough to resist all disintegrating tendencies. Inevitably the freedom, spirituality and universality of the prophetic teaching were obscured. In the 1st century A.D. the national and priestly elements controlled; doubtless many individuals still were faithful to the purer prophetic message, though also zealous for the system of ritual and sacrifice, but for the ruling majority ritualistic service was the chief thing, justice, purity and mercy being subordinate. Hence in their view all who did not participate in the national worship and conform to the national usages were outcasts. The triumph of Israel was to be accomplished by the miraculous power of a Messiah who should descend out of heaven. His coming was delayed, in part by the opposition of demons, in part by the failure of the people to obey the law. This law embraced both moral and ceremonial elements derived from varied sources, but in the apprehension of the people it was all alike regarded as of divine origin. It was to be obeyed without question and without inquiry as to its meaning, because established by God. It was contained in the Sacred Scriptures (see Bible: Old Testament), which had been revealed by God supernaturally, and its meaning was set forth by schools of learned men whose interpretations were authoritative. The conception of salvation was mingled with ideas derived from the East during and after the period of captivity. The priesthood held still the ancient ideas. Salvation was for the nation, and the individual was not necessarily participant in it. Life after death was disbelieved or held as the existence of shades. There could be no resurrection of the body and no immortality (in the Greek sense). With these beliefs were associated a certain worldliness and want of fervour. The more actively and aggressively religious party, on the other hand, adopted the belief in the resurrection of the body, and in the individual’s participation in the Messiah’s kingdom; all the pious would have their share in it, while the wicked would be outcast. But these doctrines were variously conceived. By some the Messianic kingdom was thought of as permanent, by others as intermediary, the external kingdom being transcendent. So too some thought of a literal resurrection of the body of flesh and blood, while others thought that it would be transformed. The rudiments of some of these ideas can be found in the prophets, but their development took place after the exile, and indeed for the most part after the conclusion of the writings accounted canonical. Thus too the belief in a kingdom of demons held a large place in the mind of the people, though the references to such evil beings are almost absent from the sacred writings of the Old Testament. Again it is to the East that we must look for the origin of these ideas.

Jesus completed the prophetic teachings. He employed the old phraseology and imagery, but he was conscious that he used them in a new sense, and that he preached a new gospel of great joy. Jesus was not a historian, a critic or a The teaching of Jesus.theologian. He used the words of common men in the sense in which common men understood them. He did not employ the Old Testament as now reconstructed by scholarship or judged by criticism, but in its simple and obvious and traditional sense. And his background is the intellectual and religious thinking of his time. The ideas of demons and of the future, of the Bible and many other traditional conceptions, are taken over without criticism. So the idea of God which he sets forth is not that of a theologian or a metaphysician, but that of the unlearned man which even the child could understand. Yet though thus speaking in untechnical language, he revolutionized his terms and filled them with new meaning. His emphasis is his own, and the traditional material affords merely the setting for his thought. He was not concerned with speculative questions about God, nor with abstract theories of his relationship to the soul and to the world. God’s continual presence, his fatherly love, his transcendent righteousness, his mercy, his goodness, were the facts of immediate experience. Not in proofs by formal logic but in the reality of consciousness was the certainty of God. Thus religion was freed from all particular and national elements in the simplest way. For Jesus did not denounce these elements, nor argue against them, nor did he seek converts outside of Israel, but he set forth communion with God as the most certain fact of man’s experience and as simple reality made it accessible to every one. Thus his teaching contains the note of universality—not in terms and proclamations but as plain matter of fact. His way for others to this reality is likewise plain and level to the comprehension of the unlearned and of children.

For him repentance is put first, for how vastly changed is the conception of the religious life! The intricacies of ritual and theology are ignored, and ancient laws which contradict the fundamental beliefs are unhesitatingly abrogated or denied. He seizes upon the most spiritual passages of the prophets, and revives and deepens them. He sums up his teaching in supreme love to God and a love for fellow-man like that we hold for ourselves (Mark xii. 29-31). This supreme love to God is a complete oneness with him in will, a will which is expressed in service to our fellow-men in the simplest and most natural relationship (Luke x. 25-37). Thus religion is ethical through and through, as God’s inner nature, expressed in forgiveness, mercy, righteousness and truth, is not something transcendental, but belongs to the realm of daily life. We become children of God and he our Father in virtue of a moral likeness (Matt. v. 43-48), while of any metaphysical, or (so to speak) physical relationship to God Jesus says nothing. With this clearly understood, man is to live in implicit trust in the divine love, power, knowledge and forgiveness. Hence he attains salvation, being delivered from sin and fear and death, for the divine attributes are not ontological entities to be discussed and defined in the schools, but they are realities, entering into the practical daily life. Indeed they are to be repeated in us also, so that we are to forgive our brethren as we ask to be forgiven (Matt. vi. 12; Luke xi. 4).

As religion thus becomes thoroughly ethical, so is the notion of the Messianic kingdom transformed. Its essential characteristic is the doing of the Father’s will on earth as in heaven. Jesus uses parable after parable to establish its meaning. It is a seed cast into the ground which grows and prospers (Matt. xiii. 31-32). It is a seed sown in good ground and bringing forth fruit, or in bad ground and fruitless (Luke viii. 5-8; Mark iv. 1-32). It is a pearl of great price for which a man should sell all that he possesses (Matt. xiii. 44-46). It is not come “with observation,” so that men shall say “lo here and lo there” (Luke xvii. 20-21). It is not of this world, and does not possess the characteristics or the glory of the kingdom of the earth (Luke xxii. 24-26; Mark x. 13–16). It is already present among men (Luke xvii. 21). Together with these statements in our sources are still mingled fragments of the more ordinary cataclysmic, apocalyptic conceptions, which in spite of much