The Empire of Love
W. J. DAWSON
New York Chicago Toronto
Fleming H. Revell Company
London and Edinburgh
Copyright, 1907, by
FLEMING H. REVELL COMPANY
New York: 158 Fifth Avenue Chicago: 80 Wabash Avenue Toronto: 25 Richmond Street, W. London: 21 Paternoster Square Edinburgh: 100 Princes Street
To M. M. D.,
who, during the last two years of our residence in London, practiced the teachings of this book before I taught them:
proving daily in her compassionate toil for others the divine efficacy of simple love to redeem the lives, that were most estranged from virtue, and most lost to hope.
Love feels no burden, regards not labours, would willingly do more than it is able, pleads not impossibility, because it feels that it can and may do all things.
THOMAS A KEMPIS.
I. THE GENIUS TO BE LOVED II. WHAT IS CHRISTIANITY? III. THE JUSTICE OF JESUS IV. LOVE IS JUSTICE V. LOVE AND FORGIVENESS VI. THE PRACTICE OF LOVE VII. LOVE AND JUDGMENT VIII. THE WISDOM OF THE SIMPLE IX. THE REVELATIONS OF GRIEF X. A CONFESSION XI. A LOVER OF MEN XII. THE LAW OF COMPASSION XIII. THE EMPIRE OF LOVE XIV. THE BUILDERS OF THE EMPIRE
THE GENIUS TO BE LOVED
WHY THEY LOVED HIM
So kindly was His love to us, (We had not heard of love before), That all our life grew glorious When He had halted at our door.
So meekly did He love us men, Though blind we were with shameful sin, He touched our eyes with tears, and then Led God's tall angels flaming in.
He dwelt with us a little space, As mothers do in childhood's years, And still we can discern His face Wherever Joy or Love appears.
He made our virtues all His own, And lent them grace we could not give, And now our world seems His alone, And while we live He seems to live.
He took our sorrows and our pain, And hid their torture in His breast, Till we received them back again To find on each His grief impressed.
He clasped our children in His arms, And showed us where their beauty shone, He took from us our gray alarms, And put Death's icy armour on.
So gentle were His ways with us, That crippled souls had ceased to sigh, On them He laid His hands, and thus They gloried at His passing by.
Without reproof or word of blame, As mothers do in childhood's years, He kissed our lips in spite of shame, And stayed the passage of our tears.
So tender was His love to us, (We had not learned to love before), That we grew like to Him, and thus Men sought His grace in us once more.
CONINGSBY WILLIAM DAWSON.
THE GENIUS TO BE LOVED
In the history of the last two thousand years there is but one Person who has been, and is supremely loved. Many have been loved by individuals, by groups of persons, or by communities; some have received the pliant idolatries of nations, such as heroes and national deliverers; but in every instance the sense of love thus excited has been intimately associated with some triumph of intellect, or some resounding achievement in the world of action. In this there is nothing unusual, for man is a natural worshipper of heroes. But in Jesus Christ we discover something very different; He possessed the genius to be loved in so transcendent a degree that it appears His sole genius.
Jesus is loved not for anything that He taught, nor yet wholly for anything that He did, although His actions culminate in the divine fascination of the Cross, but rather for what He was in Himself. His very name provokes in countless millions a reverent tenderness of emotion usually associated only with the most sacred and intimate of human relationships. He is loved with a certain purity and intensity of passion that transcends even the most intimate expressions of human emotion. The curious thing is that He Himself anticipated this kind of love as His eternal heritage with men. He expected that men would love Him more than father or mother, wife or child, and even made such a love a condition of what He called discipleship. The greatest marvel of all human history is that this prognostication has been strictly verified in the event. He is the Supreme Lover, for whose love, unrealizable as it is by touch, or glance, or spoken word, or momentary presence, men and women are still willing to sacrifice themselves, and surrender all things. The pregnant words of Napoleon, uttered in his last lonely reveries in St. Helena, still express the strangest thing in universal history: "Caesar, Charlemagne, I, have founded empires. They were founded on force, and have perished. Jesus Christ has founded an empire on love, and to this day there are millions ready to die for Him."
Napoleon felt the wonder of it all, the baffling, inexplicable marvel. Were we able to detach ourselves enough from use and custom, to survey the movement of human thought from some lonely height above the floods of Time, as Napoleon in the high sea-silences of St. Helena, we also might feel the wonder of this most wonderful thing the world has ever known.
That the majority of men, and even Christian men, do not perceive that the whole meaning of the life of Christ is Love is a thing too obvious to demand evidence or invite contradiction. I say men, and Christian men, thus limiting my statement, because women and Christian women, frequently do perceive it, being themselves the creatures of affection, and finding in affection the one sufficing symbol of life and of the universe. It is a St. Catherine who thinks of herself as the bride of Christ, and dreams the lovely vision of the changed hearts—the heart of Jesus placed by the hands that bled beneath her pure bosom, and her heart hidden in the side of Him who died for her. It is a St. Theresa who melts into ecstasy at the brooding presence of the heavenly Lover, and can only think of the Evil One himself with commiseration as one who cannot love. It is true that Francis of Assisi also thought and spoke of Christ with a lover's ecstasy, but then Francis in his exquisite tenderness of nature, was more woman than man. No such thought visited the stern heart of Dominic, nor any of those makers of theology who have built systems and disciplines upon the divine poetry of the divine Life.
Love, as the perfect symbol of life and the universe, does not content men, simply because for most men love is not the key to life, nor an end worth living for in itself, nor anything but a complex and often troublesome emotion, which must needs be subordinated to other faculties and qualities, such as greed, or pride, or the desire of power, or the dominant demands of intellect. Among men the poets alone have really understood Jesus: and in the category of the poets must be included the saints, whose religion has always been interpreted to them through the imagination. The poets have understood; the theologians rarely or never. Thus it happens that men, being the general and accepted interpreters of Christ, have all but wholly misinterpreted Him. The lyric passion of that life, and the lyric love which it excites, has been to them a disregarded music. They have rarely achieved more than to tell us what Christ taught; they have wholly failed to make us feel what Christ was. But Mary Magdalene knew this, and it was what she said and felt in the Garden that has put Christ upon the throne of the world. Was not her vision after all the true one? Is not a Catherine a better guide to Jesus than a Dominic? When all the strident theologies fall silent, will not the world's whole worship still utter itself in the lyric cry,
Jesu, Lover of my soul, Let me to Thy bosom fly.
Is it then not within the competence of man to interpret Christ aright, simply because the masculine temperament is what it is? By no means, for such a statement would disqualify the evangelists themselves, who are the only biographers of Jesus. But in the degree that a temperament is only masculine, it will fail to understand Jesus. Napoleon could not understand; he was the child of force, the son of the sword, the very type of that hard efficiency of will and intellect which turns the heart to flint, and scorns the witness of the softer intuitions. Francis could understand because he was in part feminine—not weakly so, but nobly, as all poets and dreamers and visionaries are. Paul could understand for the same reason, and so could John and Peter; each, in varying degrees, belonging to the same type; but Pilate could not understand, because he had been trained in the hard efficiency of Rome; nor Judas, because the masculine vice of ambition had overgrown his affections, and deflowered his heart. What is it then in Paul and John and Peter, what element or quality, which we do not find in Pilate, Judas, or Napoleon? Clearly there is no lack of force, for the personality of these three first apostles lifted a world out of its groove and changed the course of history. Was it not just this, that each had beneath his masculine strength a feminine tenderness, a power of loving and of begetting love in others? John lying on the bosom of Jesus in sheer abandonment of love and sorrow at the last Supper; Peter, plunging naked into the Galilean sea, and struggling to the shore at the mere suspicion that the strange figure outlined there upon the morning mist is the Lord; Paul praying not only to share the wounds of Jesus, but if there be any pang left over, any anguish unfulfilled, that this anguish may be his—these are not alone immortal pictures, but they are revelations of a temperament, the temperament that understands Jesus. He who could not melt into an abandonment of grief and love over one on whom the shadow of the last hour rested; he who would spring headlong into no estranging sea to reach one loved and lost and marvellously brought near again; he who can share the festal wine of life, but has no appetite for agony, no thirsting of the soul to bear another's pain—these can never understand Jesus. They cannot understand Him, simply because they cannot understand love.
WHAT IS CHRISTIANITY?
The great obdurate world I know no more, The clanging of the brazen wheels of greed, The taloned hands that build the miser's store, The stony streets where feeble feet must bleed. No more I walk beneath thy ashen skies, With pallid martyrs cruelly crucified Upon thy predetermined Calvaries: I, too, have suffered, yea, and I have died! Now, at the last, another road I take Thro' peaceful gardens, by a lilted way, To those low eaves beside the silver lake, Where Christ waits for me at the close of day. Farewell, proud world! In vain thou callest me. I go to meet my Lord in Galilee.
WHAT IS CHRISTIANITY?
Christianity, as it exists to-day, is in the main a misrepresentation and a misinterpretation of Christ; not consciously indeed—if it were so the remedy would be easy; but unconsciously, which makes the remedy difficult. One need not stop to define Christianity, for there is only one sincere meaning to the word; it implies a kind of life whose spirit and method reproduce as accurately as possible the spirit and the method of the life of Jesus. It would seem that if this interpretation of the term be correct there could be no difficulty in adjusting even unconscious misinterpretation of Christ to the true facts of the case: but here we are met by that perversity of vision which springs not from ignorance, but from thoughtlessness, and is in its nature much more obdurate than the worst perversity of ignorance. Ignorance can be enlightened; thoughtlessness, being usually associated with vanity, recognizes no need of enlightenment.
The life of Jesus, freshly introduced to a mind wholly ignorant of its existence may be trusted to convey its own impression; but the thoughtless mind will be either too proud, or too shallow, or too confident, to be sensitive to right impressions. Thus the trouble with most people who call themselves Christians is not to educate them into right conceptions of the life of Christ, but to destroy the growth of wrong impressions. "Surely," they will say, "we know all about the life of Christ. We have read the biographies of Jesus ever since the days of infancy. We have heard the life of Jesus expounded through long years by multitudes of teachers. We have a church which claims to have extracted from the life of Jesus a whole code of laws for life and conduct; is not this enough?" But what if the teachers themselves have never found the true secret of Jesus? What if they have but repeated the error of the Pharisees in elaborating a code of laws in which the vital spirit of the truth they would impart is lost? And does not the whole history of man's mind teach us that one simple truth known at first-hand is worth more to us, and is of greater influence on our conduct, than all the second-hand instruction we may receive from the most competent of teachers? It is just this first-hand thought which we most need. We need to see for ourselves what Jesus was, and not through the eyes of another, whatever his authority.
Suppose that we should read the Gospels in this spirit, with an entirely unbiassed and receptive mind, capable of first-hand impressions, what would be the probable character of these impressions? The clearest and deepest of all, I think, would be that the Jesus therein depicted lived His life on principles so novel that we are able to discover no life entirely like His in the best lives round about us. We should probably be struck first of all by certain outward dissimilarities. Thus He was not only poor, but He did not resent poverty—He beatified it. The things for which men naturally, and, as we think, laudably strive, such as a settled position in society and the consideration of others, He did not think worth seeking at all. He made no use of His abilities for private ends, which has been the common principle of social life since society began. He asked nothing of the world, being apparently convinced that nothing which the world could give Him was worth having. Strangest thing of all in one who must have been conscious of His own genius, and of the value of His teachings to mankind, He made not the least effort to perpetuate these teachings. He wrote no book, provided no biographer, did none of those things which the humblest man of genius does to ensure that distant generations shall comprehend and appreciate his character and message. He was content to speak His deepest truths to casual listeners. He spent all His wealth of intellect upon inferior persons, fishermen and the like, who did not comprehend one tithe of what He said. He was the friend of all who chose to seek His friendship. He discriminated so little that He even admitted a Judas to His intimacy, and allowed women tainted with dishonour and impurity to offer Him public tokens of affection. In all these things He differed absolutely from any other man who ever lived beneath the public eye. In all these things He still stands alone; for who, among the saintliest men we know, has not some innocent pride in his ability, or some preference in friendship, or some instinctive compliance with social usage, or some worldly hopes and honourable aims which he shares in common with the mass of men?
But these outward dissimilarities of conduct disclose a dissimilarity of soul. Men live for something; for what did Jesus live? And the answer that leaps upon us like a great light from every page of the Gospels is plain; He lived for love. If He did not care for praise or honour; if He regarded even the preservation of His teachings with a divine carelessness, it was because He had a nobler end in view, the love of men. He could not live without love, and His supreme aim was to make Himself loved. And yet it was less a conscious aim, than the natural working out of His own character. Fishermen by the sea saw Him but once; instantly they left their boats and followed Him. A man sitting at the receipt of custom, a hard man we should suppose, little likely to be swayed by sudden emotions, also sees Him once, and finds his occupation gone. A beautiful courtesan, beholding Him pass by, breaks from her lovers, and follows Him into an alien house, where she bathes His feet with tears and wipes them with the hairs of her head. Mature women without a word spoken or a plea made, minister to Him of their substance, and count their lives His. When He sleeps wearied out upon a rude fishing-boat, there is a pillow for His head, placed there by some unknown adorer. The men He makes apostles, all but one, count His smile over-payment for the loss of home, of wife, of children. Countless throngs of ordinary men and women forget their hunger, and are content to camp in desert places only to listen to the music of His voice. Wild and outlawed men, criminals and lepers and madmen, become as little children at His word, and all the wrongs and bruises inflicted on them by a cruel world are healed beneath His kindly glance. Does it matter greatly what He taught? This is how He lived. He lived in such a way that men saw that love was the only thing worth living for, that life had meaning only as it had love. And this is the imperishable tradition of Jesus:
This is His divinity, This His universal plea, Here is One that loveth thee.
What then is a true Christianity but the accurate reproduction of this spirit of love, the creation of loving and lovable men and women, who attract and uplift all around them by the subtle fascination of the love that animates them? What is a Christian Church but a confraternity of such men and women? What is a Christian society, but a society permeated by this spirit, and bringing all the affairs of life to its test? And what place have social superiorities and inferiorities; pride, scorn, or coldness; harsh theologies, breeding harsh tempers and infinite disputes; the egoism that wounds the humble, the strength that disregards the weak, the vanity that hurts the simple, in any company of men and women who dare to wear the name of such a Founder? It was as a Bridegroom Christ came, anointed with all the perfumes of a dedicated love, and until the last bitter hour of His rejection, He moved with such lyric joyousness across the earth, that life became festive in His presence. It is as a Bride the church exists on earth, and if no festive smiles are awakened by its presence, and no gracious unsealing of the founts of love in human hearts, then is it not Christ's Church, for He has passed elsewhere with another company to the marriage-feast, and His Church stands without, before a barred and darkened door.
THE JUSTICE OF JESUS
HOW HE CAME
When the golden evening gathered on the shore of Galilee, When the fishing boats lay quiet by the sea, Long ago the people wondered, tho' no sign was in the sky, For the glory of the Lord was passing by.
Not in robes of purple splendour, not in silken softness shod, But in raiment worn with travel came their God, And the people knew His presence by the heart that ceased to sigh When the glory of the Lord was passing by.
For He healed their sick at even, and He cured the leper's sore, And sinful men and women sinned no more, And the world grew mirthful hearted, and forgot its misery When the glory of the Lord was passing by.
Not in robes of purple splendour, but in lives that do His will, In patient acts of kindness He comes still; And the people cry with wonder, tho' no sign is in the sky, That the glory of the Lord is passing by.
THE JUSTICE OF JESUS
One strong peculiarity of the teaching of Jesus—we might even call it its outstanding feature—is that it is frequently disclosed in a series of incidents. Unlike most teachers He philosophizes little about life. A single chapter of the Gospels, or at most two, would contain all the maxims about life which He thought necessary for wise and lofty conduct. His method is rather to put Himself in relation to the crucial occurrences of life, and to reveal the true way of regarding them by His own attitude towards them. When He would teach the beauty of humility it is by putting a little child in the midst of His arrogant and vainglorious disciples, that the child may become the living and memorable parable of His sentiments. When He would teach humanity, He does so by His own conduct to lepers. When He would discredit and expose the barbarism of the Mosaic Sabbatarian laws as interpreted by scribes and Pharisees, He does so by healing the sick and blind upon the Sabbath day. He is all for the concrete, teaching not by theory, but by example. The method is novel, and its advantages are obvious. The best conceived discourses on humility, mercy, or sympathy, might be forgotten, but no one can forget the child among the disciples, nor the raptured gaze of the blind man when his purged eyes open to behold the face of his miraculous Physician, nor the picture of Jesus touching without fear or disgust the leper whose unclean contagion made him an object of aversion even to the pitiful.
It is a wonderful method of instruction; it makes every other method seem trite and wearisome. Its effect is to make the Gospels a series of tableaux, which dwell in the memory as things actually seen. The groups upon the stage perpetually shift and rearrange themselves; each represents some phase of life, some problem, some combination of circumstance more or less common in the experience of men, something that is typical, for Jesus chooses only the typical and essential things of life for these occasions. The lesser things of life He passes over; it is the great and crucial matters which attract Him.
But what are the great things of life?
They all fall into one category, they all present problems in human relationship. No problems are so difficult. They are not speculative, but practical. A man who may be wise as the world counts wisdom, and able to pierce with acute analysis to the depth of the abstrusest philosophic problem, may nevertheless find himself hopelessly baffled by some quite common fact of life, such as how to treat a wayward son, or a sinful woman. I am not likely to lose a night's rest because I am unable to define the Trinity but with what sore travail of heart do I toss through midnight hours when I have to settle some course of action towards the friend who has betrayed me, the brother who has brought me shame, the child who scoffs at my restraint, and hears the call of the far country in every swift pulsation of his passionate heart! And why cannot I settle my course of action? Because my mind is confused by something which I call justice, to which custom has given authority and consecration. Justice prescribes one course of action, affection another. The convention of the world insists that wrong-doing should be punished, which is manifestly right; but when it insists that I should be the punisher, I suspect something wrong. The more closely I study conventional justice the more I am conscious of something in myself that distrusts and revolts from it. The more I incline to the voice of affection the more I fear it, lest I should be guilty of weakness which would merit my own contempt. The struggle is one between convention and instinct, and I know not which side to take. But one thing I do know; it is that I have no certain clue to guide me, no clear determining principle that divides the darkness with a sword of light, no voice within myself that is authoritative.
Now the wonderful thing in Jesus is that He is always sure of Himself. Nothing takes Him by surprise, nothing produces the least hesitation in His judgment. Therefore He must have had an unfailing clue to which He trusted in the maze of life. Behind all consistency of judgment there must exist consistency of principle. The principle that governed all the thoughts of Jesus was that love was the only real justice. He came not to condemn, not to destroy men's lives, but to save them. There was no problem of human relationship that could not be solved by love; there was no other principle needed for the regulation of society; and no other could produce that general peace and good-will which He called the Kingdom of God.
Thus, on one occasion Jesus tells a story which is so lifelike in every touch that we may accept it, without doubt, as less a parable than an incident. A father has two sons, one of whom is industrious and dutiful, the other wayward and rebellious. The wayward son finally casts off all pretense of filial obedience, goes into a far country, and wastes his substance in riotous living. Here we have one of the saddest of all problems in human relationship, for presently the disgraced son comes home a beggar. The elder brother who represents the average social view, has no doubt whatever as to what should be done. He is offended that the disgraced son should come home at all; he would have thought better of him if he had hidden his shame in the country that had witnessed it. Probably his sense of pride and respectability is offended more than his love of virtue, though he characteristically gives his jealous anger the illusion of morality. This, I say, is the average social view. There are few things more cruel than affronted respectability. The elder brother is an eminently respectable person, totally unacquainted with wayward passions, and his only feeling for his brother is disdain.
Jesus tells the story, however, in such a way as to discredit the average social view. He begins by making us feel that whatever follies the prodigal had committed, he had already been punished for them in the miseries he had endured. It is not for man to punish with his whip of scorn one who has already been flaggellated with a whip of scorpions in the desert places of disgrace and shame. Jesus makes us feel also that whatever sins might be laid to the charge of the disgraced son, there is nevertheless in his heart a warmth of feeling of which the elder brother gives no sign. The boy loves his father, otherwise he would not have turned to him in his anguish of distress. The elder brother's attitude to his father is arrogant and harsh; the younger brother's is humble and tender. Lastly the father himself is revealed as the embodiment of love. He asks no questions, utters no reproaches, imposes no conditions; he simply takes his son back, in the rush of his affection cutting short the boy's pitiful confession, and calling for shoes and new robes and festal music, as though his son had returned in dignity and triumph. In the last scene of all, implied rather than described, the restored prodigal sits at the feast, leaning on his father's bosom, but the respectable son stands without in a darkness of his own creation—the darkness which a harsh spirit and an unlovely temper never fail to create in men of his unhappy temperament.
It is a very strange story, if we come to think of it; almost an immoral story, as no doubt it was considered by the Pharisees, and persons of their cold and mechanical type of virtue. But Jesus anticipates their criticism with one of the most startling statements that ever fell from inspired lips, "There is more joy in heaven among the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety and nine righteous persons who need no repentance." Heaven approves the story, if they do not. Thus God Himself would act, for God is love. Thus love must needs act, if it be the kind of love that "suffereth long and is kind, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." And if we ask what becomes of justice, Jesus assures us that love is the only real justice. For the main object of justice is not punishment but reclamation. A truly enlightened justice is less concerned with the punishment of wrong than its reparation.
The gravest question in the case of this unhappy boy is not what he has made of himself by sin and folly, but what can yet be made of him by wise and tender treatment. Had the father coldly dismissed the prodigal with some bitter verdict on his past folly, he himself would have been unjust to the boy's possibilities, and thus would have sinned against his son with a sin much less capable of excuse than the son's sin against him. The worst sinner in the story is not the son who went wrong, but the son who had never done anything but right, yet had done it in such a way that it had begotten in him a vile, censorious, loveless temper. No one can be just who does not love; and so, once more removing the story into that unseen world which Christ called in to redress the balance of this visible world, we sinful men and women build our hopes upon the great saying that God's forgiveness is God's justice: if we confess our sins, He is not only faithful, but JUST in forgiving us our sins.
LOVE IS JUSTICE
THE WAY OF WOUNDS
He touched the leper tenderly, So in His hands there came to be Wide wounds that were not wrought with nails. Alas, my hands are smooth and fair, No wound is on them anywhere, Nor any scarlet scar of nails.
His lips lay on the mouth of death, God's healing dwelt within their breath, Wherefore his lips grew pale with pain, And no man shall that pain divine; Alas, my lips are red with wine, And they have scorned His draught of pain.
His feet were torn of stone and thorn, Full slow He moved on roads forlorn, But joyous hearts accompanied Him; Alas, my feet are softly shod, And on the road that leads to God, They have not sought to move with Him.
And so all wounded by the way, He came home at the close of day, And angels met Him at the Gate. Alas, His way I have not known— The road forlorn, the wounding stone— And no one waits me at the Gate.
LOVE IS JUSTICE
Love is the only real justice—never was there a more revolutionary ethic! If Christianity is to be judged by its institutions, it must be reluctantly confessed that twenty centuries of Christian teaching have almost wholly failed to make this strange ethic acceptable to mankind. The elder brother still makes broad his phylacteries in the home, in the Church, and on the seat of justice. The elder brother's sense of offended respectability still masquerades as virtue. Who forgives as this father forgave, with such completeness that he who has wrought the wrong is encouraged to forget that the wrong was ever wrought? Where is the loving and tolerant spirit of the father less visible than in the Church, which crucifies men for a word, and makes a difference of opinion the ground for deadly enmity? Of what administration of law can we say that its chief object is not the punishment of the wrong-doer, but his reclamation? No existing society is organized on these principles, and the only defense the apologists of a bastard Christianity make is that it is totally impossible to apply the principles of Jesus to the administration of society. That is, at all events, an intelligible defense, but is it a legitimate one? Was Jesus merely a romantic dreamer, with entirely romantic views of love and justice? Was He a moral anarchist, whose teachings, if interpreted in laws, would destroy the basis of society? A strange thing indeed in human history if One who has been loved as no other was ever loved by multitudes of men and women through the ages, should prove after all to be an impracticable dreamer or a moral anarchist!
But if Jesus was a dreamer, He dreamed true, and the very reason why He is loved with such wide and deep devotion is that men do dimly, but instinctively, perceive that His life presents the only perfect pattern of life as it should be. Life, as it exists, is clearly not ordered on a social system which any wise or good man can approve. Hence the wise and good man is perpetually urged to the enquiry whether Jesus may not after all have been right?
Jesus certainly acts as one who is right. He acts always with the assured air of one for whom all debate is closed and henceforth impossible. He knows His way, and the great moral dilemmas of life yield instantly to His touch. He penetrates to their roots and makes us feel that He has touched the essential element in them. The dreamer vindicates himself by making it manifest that he sees deeper into the problem than the moralist, and that his is after all the better morality because it is of higher social value, and makes more directly for social reconciliation.
Let us take, for example, the judgment of Jesus upon the woman who was a sinner in the house of Simon the Pharisee. The social dilemma of the fallen woman is much more difficult of solution than that of the prodigal son. We expect a certain power of moral convalescence in youth which has been betrayed through folly. Sooner or later the manly nature kindles with resentment at its own weakness. Moreover, social law allows a certain opportunity of recuperation to man which it denies to woman. The sin of the woman seems less pardonable, not because it is worse in itself, but because it outrages a higher convention. Hence the strict moralist who might make some allowance for the hot blood of youth, makes none for woman when she is betrayed through the affections.
But this is the very point on which Jesus fixes as essential. "The woman loved much, therefore let her many sins be forgiven," He says. And a true reading of the story would seem to show that in uttering this sublime verdict Jesus is not thinking of the woman's sudden and pure love for Him; He is rather reviewing the entire nature of her life. She had loved much—that is her history in a sentence. Cruelty and unkindness, malice and bitterness, had no part in her misdoing. She had been undone through the very sweetness of her nature, as multitudes of women are. That which was her noblest attribute—her power of affection—had been the minister of her ruin through lack of wisdom and restraint. By love she had fallen, by love also she shall be redeemed. Her sins were indeed many, but behind all her sins there was an essential though perverted magnanimity of nature, and for the sake of an essential good in her, which lay like a shining pearl at the root of her debasement, she shall be forgiven.
Again a strange verdict, and one that must have seemed to the Pharisees entirely immoral. "What becomes of justice?" is their whispered comment. Jesus asserts His sense of justice by an exposition of the character of Simon. Simon is destitute of love, of magnanimity, even of courtesy. In his hard and formal nature there has been no room for emotion; passion of any kind and he are strangers. Which nature is radically the better, his or "this woman's"? Which presents the more hopeful field to the moralist? The soil of Simon's heart is thin and meagre; but in "this woman's" heart is a soil overgrown with weeds indeed, but delicately tempered, rich and deep, in which the roots of the fair tree of life may find abundant room and nourishment. Therefore she shall be forgiven for her possibilities, and such forgiveness is justice. To ignore these possibilities, to allow what she has been utterly to overshadow the lovely vision of what she may be, when once the soil is clear of weeds, and the real magnanimity of her temperament is directed into noble uses, would be the most odious form of injustice.
Such is the justice of Jesus, but, alas, after two thousand years we still stand astonished at it, more than half doubtful of its validity, and, if truth be told, secretly dismayed at its boldness. It is romantic justice, we say, but is it practicable justice? We might at least remember that what we call practicable justice has never yet attained the gracious results of Christ's romantic justice. Simon the Pharisee knows no more how to deal with "this woman" than the elder brother knew how to deal with the prodigal. Such sense of justice as they possessed would have infallibly driven the penitent boy back to the comradeship of harlots, and have refused the penitent harlot the barest chance of reformation. Is not this enough to make the least discerning of us all suspect that Pharisees and elder brothers, for all their immaculate respectability of life, are by no means qualified to pass judgment on these tragedies of life with which they have no acquaintance, and cannot have an understanding sympathy? Does not the entire failure of legal justice with all its apparatus of punishment and repression, to give the sinner a vital impulse to withdraw from his sin, drive us to the conclusion, or at least to the hope, that there must be some better method of dealing with sinners than is sanctioned by conventional justice? There is another method—it is Christ's method. And the thing to be observed is that whereas conventional justice must certainly have failed in either of these crucial instances, the romantic justice of Jesus—if we must so call it—completely succeeded. The woman who was a sinner sinned no more, and the penitent son henceforth lived a new life of purity and obedience. In each case love is justified, and proves itself the highest justice.
LOVE AND FORGIVENESS
What profits all the hate that we have known The bitter words, not all unmerited? Have hearts e'er thriven beneath our angry frown? Have roses grown from thistles we have sown? Or lucid dawns flowered out of sunsets red? Lo, all in vain The violence that added pain to pain, And drove the sinner back to sin again.
We had been wiser had we walked Love's way We had been happier had we tenderer been, We had found sunlight in the cloudiest day Had we but loved the souls that went astray, And sought from shame their many faults to screen Lo, they and we Had thus escaped Life's worst Gethsemane, And found the Garden where the angels be.
For One there was who, angry, drew no sword, Derided, wept for those who wrought Him wrong, And at the last attained this great reward, That those who injured Him acclaimed Him Lord, And wove His story into holiest song. So sinners wrought For Him the Kingdom He had vainly sought, And to His feet the world's frankincense brought.
LOVE AND FORGIVENESS
In these instances it is the singular completeness of Christ's forgiveness which is the most startling feature. It would be a libel on human nature to say that men do not forgive each other, but human forgiveness usually has reservations, reticences, conditions. Jesus taught unlimited forgiveness, and what He taught He practiced.
"Then came Peter, and said to Him, 'Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Until seven times?' Jesus said unto him, 'I say not unto thee, until seven times; but until seventy times seven.'"
It is a vehement reply, in which a quiet note of scorn vibrates; not scorn of Peter, but scorn of any kind of love that is less than limitless. But whose love is limitless? Do we not commonly speak of love as being outworn by offense or neglect? In the compacts which we make with one another in the name of love, do we not specifically name certain offenses as unpardonable? Thus one man will say, "I can forgive anything but meanness," and another says, "no friendship can survive perfidy"; and in the relations between men and women unfaithfulness is held to cancel all bonds, however indissoluble they may seem. Now and again, it is true, some strange voice reaches us, keyed to a different music. Shakespeare, for example, in his famous one hundred and sixteenth sonnet, boldly states that
Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove.
But who listens, who believes? Yet, if it should happen to us to be placed in the position of the offender, we need no one to convince us that a true love should be, in its very nature, unalterable. How astonished and dismayed are we, when eyes that have so many times met ours in tenderness harden at our presence, and lips which have uttered so many pledges of affection, speak harshly! We do not deny our fault, indeed; but we think we can discern reasons why it should be regarded mercifully, why the very memory and sacredness of old affection should make harsh judgment impossible; nay, more, why a deeply generous love should even rejoice in the opportunity to forgive, and so should sanctify our very shame with the healing touch of pity, and pour our tears into the sacramental cup which ratifies a new fidelity.
It is so the sinner argues, his vision of what love ought to be growing clearer by his offense against love. It is he alone, the sinner, who can really sympathize with Christ's conception of love, for he alone feels that this is the kind of love he needs. The elder brother does not understand, Simon the Pharisee does not understand, because neither has sinned in such a way as to be flung helpless at the feet of love. Peter did not understand when he put his question to Christ. He spoke just as the average man would speak, who has never sounded the tragic depths in life, has never known the misery of weakness, and therefore has no fellow feeling for the weak. Love as such men know it is less a passion than a compact. It is a bond of mutual advantage, guarded from abuse by swift penalty and forfeit. It is the reward of qualities, it gives no more than it gets, it exists by an equal equipoise of service. If this equipoise is disturbed its obligations are dissolved. It is easily affronted, and under affront becomes resentful, bitter, even vindictive. How oft shall I forgive my brother? Only as oft as a sense of duty shall demand, only up to the point which is sanctioned by social custom, so that I may save my reputation for magnanimity, always excepting certain sins for which no pardon can be legitimately asked. But the hour was not far off when Peter himself was to commit the very sins for which customary love has no pardon. He was to be guilty of those offenses which just and good men say they cannot forgive—meanness, cowardice, perfidy, denial. That bitter hour revealed the true nature of love to Peter. He knew that in spite of his sin against Jesus, he still loved Him, and since love was unalterable in him, he expected an unalterable love in Christ. It was the seventy times seven forgiveness that he needed then; and how sweet to recollect in that hour that Jesus had taught a love that knew no limit. "Lovest thou Me?" was the one word his Master uttered when they met in the quiet morning light beside the sea. "Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee," was the swift reply. Storms disturb the sea but the central tides run on. Peter found with equal astonishment and gratitude that not even perfidy was able to separate him from the love of Christ, for that love was unalterable as the morning star which hung above the lake, and cleansing as the soft waves that lapped its shore.
The self-righteous man will never understand these things. Men and women of meagre natures, with whom love is a compact, not a passion, will vehemently disapprove them. People of smooth lives, ignorant of strong temptations, will refuse even to discuss them. Jesus was well aware of their implacable indifference or cold hostility, and boldly said that for such people He had no gospel. His mission was not to the whole, but to the sick. The Gospel of Jesus is in truth not designed for people of comfortable lives. He has little to say to the children of compromise, whose emasculated lives attain the semblance of virtue by the cautious exercise of niggard passions. They can take care of one another, these righteous ones, whose very righteousness is a negation.
But Christ's Gospel is for a tragic world. It is for the disinherited, the weak, and the strong who have become weak; for those who have been wrecked by folly and passion, and too much love of living; for those whose capacities for good and evil, being both rooted in passion, are equally a peril and a potency—it is to these Christ chiefly speaks. To them the Gospel of unlimited forgiveness and unalterable love is the only vital, because the only efficacious Gospel. The man whose very virility of nature makes him the easy prey of murderous joy; the man shut up in prison, who hears from the lips that once spake love to him, the sentence of inexpiable disgrace; the outcast from honour, gnawing the bitter husks of hated sin in far lands, and tortured in his dreams by the sweetness of recollected happiness; these, and all like these, will understand Jesus, for it is to them He speaks. Their very sin interprets Him. To their forlorn ears the love He teaches will sound not strange, for it is the only kind of love that can redeem them; nor foolish, for it is the only love that dare stoop low enough to lift them up. These will not fail to understand what conventional righteousness finds so difficult; these, and also all good women who have had acquaintance with either deep love or real grief, because it is a loving woman's sweet prerogative and divine disposition to forgive, and to draw from her grace of forgiveness a more tender and maternal power of loving.
THE PRACTICE OF LOVE
When men of malice wrought the crown for Thee Didst Thou complain? Nay; in each thorn God's finger Thou didst see, His love thro' pain.
His finger did but press the ripened Vine, Thy fruit to prove, That henceforth all the world might drink the wine Of Thy great love.
So when the darkness rose about Thy feet Thy lips met His, Amid the upper light, in Death's long sweet, Releasing kiss.
And shall I cry aloud in anger when Men make for me A Cross less harsh? Nay, I'll remember then Thy constancy.
And if the darkness hide me from Thy sight At God's command, I'll talk with Thee all thro' the prayerful night, And touch Thy hand;
Greatly content, if I whose life has been So long unwise, May, wounded, on Thy wounded bosom lean In Paradise.
THE PRACTICE OF LOVE
So convinced was Jesus that love alone was the master law of life, that He based His own life wholly on His conviction, cheerfully accepting all the risks which were implied. He was perfectly aware of the consequences to Himself and His reputation when He made Himself the friend of publicans and sinners. These consequences He ignored, making Himself of no reputation, that He might uplift by His love those who needed His love the most. Under the constant contradiction of those who mistook His spirit, and even libelled His character, He manifested neither bitterness nor resentment. He suffered injuries without retaliation, and went so far as to denounce all forms of retaliation as a wasteful expenditure of spirit, wrong in themselves, and attaining no end but the worse injury of those who employed them. He might easily have used the miraculous power which He possessed for His own defense, and for the confusion of His enemies. Had He been selfishly ambitious, He might have organized a party so strong, that it would have become an irresistible force, which would have shattered the old order whose evils He denounced, and have made Him the dictator of a new order, based on the ideals in which He believed. He did none of these things, not through lassitude of spirit or failure to perceive their possible issues, but simply because these were not the things to do. In His judgment the only abiding kingdom belonged to the meek. He who suffered injustice with patience would prove the ultimate conqueror. There was an irresistible might in love and meekness against which the people raged in vain. Love was a working and practicable law of life; in the long issue of things it was the only law that justified itself.
Was Jesus right in these conclusions? Can human life proceed along the lines He indicated? Certainly it has never yet done so. The woman who is a sinner finds no Jesus to absolve her utterly among the priests of His religion. The resentment of injury is regarded even by good men as entirely justified when injury to the person involves the rights of social order. Force is regarded by persons of the highest amiability as necessary to the defense of society, and the Church applauds the punishments inflicted by the civil magistrate, and even hastens to bless the banners and baptize the deadly weapons of the warrior. Meekness, which endures injury without resentment, is regarded as the sign of a servile and cowardly spirit, and is the subject of ridicule and contempt. No Christian society exists in which a Peter would be freely pardoned his offense; the best that could be hoped would be the infliction of humiliating penance, and a reluctant reinstatement in the apostleship after a long period of bitter ostracism. Yet who would venture to challenge the conduct of Jesus in these respects? Who would not find his opinion of Jesus tragically lowered, and his adoration practically destroyed, if some new and more authentic Gospel were discovered by which we learned that Jesus smote with leprosy the Pharisees who resisted Him, as Elisha smote Gehazi: that He sanctioned the stoning of the adultress taken in the act of sin; or that He branded Simon Peter for his perfidy, and drove him out forever from the apostleship he had disgraced, denouncing him as a son of hell and a predestined citizen of the outer darkness? Could such acts be attributed to Jesus, though each act in itself would precisely represent the common temper of Christian courts and so-called Christian men under circumstances of similar and equal provocation, the worship of Jesus would at once cease throughout the world.
The dilemma is truly tragic. A Jesus who should be proved to have lived according to the conventions we respect, who did not rise above conventional ideals of either love or justice, who approved force, and resented injuries, who repudiated the friend who had betrayed Him, who shunned the contact of persons whose touch dishonoured Him—such a Jesus would cease to be our Jesus. He would no longer attract us, He would not touch our hearts, He would barely command our respect. Astounding fact! Those very things in the life of Jesus which we disapprove are the things for which we love Him; and those tempers which we ourselves disallow are in Him the sources of our adoration.
We are bound therefore to ask, can that method of conduct be wrong which has won this triumphant issue? It may be ironically true that we love Him most for those very acts of His which we are least likely to imitate; but is not this our tacit testimony to the essential rightness of these acts? In our better, or our softer moments; or in those moments when we are most conscious of the cruelty of life, and most in need of love, do we not feel, as the life of Jesus grows before us, that this is how life should be lived? Dare we question that a world governed wholly by the ideals of Jesus would be a far happier world than this we know? Love, as the one necessary law of life, clearly stands justified in Jesus, since it has produced the most adorable character in history. If we admit this, it is foolish to speak of Christ's ideals as impracticable. What we approve in another's life we cannot wholly repudiate in our own. Let it be added also, that a life lived by another is always a life that others can live. We may seek to cover our failure, and the world's failure, to reproduce the life of Jesus, by the plea of incompetence, but against our plea Jesus records His verdict, "Behold I have left you an example."
From that verdict there is no appeal.
LOVE AND JUDGMENT
MOTHER AND SON
When, for the last time, from His Mother's home The Son went forth, foreseeing perfectly What doom would happen, and what things would come, Was there upon His lips no stifled sigh For happy hours that should return no more, Long days among the lilies, pure delights Of wanderings by Galilee's fair shore, And converse with His friends on starry nights? Yet brave He stepped into the setting sun With this one word, "Father, Thy will be done!"
With a low voice the stooping olive-trees Whispered to Him of His Gethsemane; The cruel thorn-bush, clinging to His knees, Proclaimed, "I shall be made a crown for Thee!" And, looking back, His eyes made dim with loss, He saw the lintel of the cottage grow In shape against the sunset, like a cross, And knew He had not very far to go. Yet brave He stepped into the setting sun, Still saying this one word, "Thy will be done!"
So, when the last time, from His Mother's home The Son passed out, no choir of angels came, As long before at Bethlehem they had come, To comfort Him upon the road of shame. Alone He went, and stopped a little space, As one overburdened, stopped to look again Upon His Mother's pleading form and face, And wept for her, that she should know this pain. Then, silently, He faced the setting sun And said, "Oh, Father, let Thy will be done!"
LOVE AND JUDGMENT
Just as Jesus called in the vision of the unseen world to redress the balance of the visible world, when He said that there was more joy in heaven over the penitent sinner than over ninety and nine just men who needed no repentance, so in His final addresses to His followers He again discloses the unseen world. These final addresses deal with the tremendous problem of a future judgment. Over no problem does the human mind hover with such breathless interest, such unfeigned alarm. But with characteristic perversity the elements in Christ's vision of the judgment on which men have seized most tenaciously, are precisely those elements which are least intelligible, and least capable of strict definition. It is around the word "eternal" and the nature of the punishment suggested, that the theological battles of centuries have centred. Yet the really central point of both the vision and the teaching, is not here at all; and it is only man's habitual love of enigma which can explain the passion with which men have opposed one another over the interpretation of words and phrases which must always remain enigmatic.
Let us turn to Christ's vision of the Judgment, as recorded by St. Matthew, and what do we find? First that the same Son of Man, whose whole life was an exposition of the law of love, is Himself the final judge of men and nations. "The Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, and before Him shall be gathered all the nations, and He shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." No alien judge, observe, unacquainted with the nature of man, but one who knows human life so thoroughly that He is the representative man—"the Son of Man"; and although He is now the Judge, yet He still calls Himself by the tender name of the Shepherd. The tribunal is therefore the tribunal of love, and the court is the court of love. He who shall judge mankind is He who judges Peter and the woman who was a sinner, He of whose tenderness and sympathy we have assurance in a hundred acts of mercy, pity, and magnanimity. Yet for centuries the Church has sung its terrible Dies Irae, has clothed the judgment seat with thunder, has put into the hands of Jesus bolts of flame, and has applauded and enthroned in His sanctuaries such pictorial blasphemies as Michael Angelo's Last Judgment, which represents Jesus as an angry Hercules, and even gratifies the private spite of the artist by overwhelming in a sea of fire one who had offered him a personal affront.
Blasphemy indeed, and falsehood too; for the second thing we find is that the one principle which governs the entire vision of Jesus is that Love judges, and that it is by Love that men are tested. The men and women of loving disposition, who have wrought many little acts of kindness which were to them so natural and simple that they do not so much as recollect them, find themselves mysteriously selected for infinite rewards. The men and women of opposite disposition, in spite of all their outward rectitude of behaviour, find themselves numbered with the goats. A cup of cold water given to a child, a meal bestowed upon a beggar, a garment shared with the naked—these things purchase heaven. One who Himself had been thirsty, hungry, and naked, judges their worth, and He judges by His own remembered need. It is love alone that is divine, love alone that prepares the soul for divine felicity. With a beautiful unconsciousness of any merit, the people who have lived lovingly plead ignorance of their own lovely acts and tempers; but they have been witnessed by the hierarchies of heaven, the morning stars have sung of them, they have made glad the heart of God; and the reward of these humble servitors of love now is that having added to the joy of God, henceforth they shall share that joy forever.
Never was there vision at once so exquisite and so surprising. It is like a child's dream of heaven and judgment, so untouched is it by the conventions of the world, so innocent, so daring, so tenderly imagined, and so impossibly probable. Alas, that most of us are too wise to understand it, and too worldly to receive it. Yet in nothing that Jesus uttered is there clearer evidence of deliberation. And it is of a piece with all He taught; so much so indeed that without it, His teaching would be incomplete.
Truly, we may say, the Heaven of Jesus is a strangely ordered Kingdom; for in it beggars are comforted for apparently no other reason than that they need comfort; the doers of forgotten kindnesses are crowned with sudden splendours of divine approval while the lords of genius and the makers of empire are forgotten; and the very anthems of the blessed are hushed into silent wondering and joy when solitary penitents turn homewards from the roads of sin! But it is not stranger than that kingdom in which Jesus lived habitually, the kingdom He created round Him in His earthly life. In that kingdom also love was lord, and she who anointed the tired feet of the Master against His burial was promised everlasting remembrance, and she who out of her penury gave her mite to the poor was praised as having done more than all the rich, who from their abundance distributed careless and unmissed benefactions. In all that Jesus says and does the same sequence of thought runs clear, the same master principle rules the various result. Life is a unity either here or hereafter, and love is, and must evermore remain, the one temper that gives significance to life.
THE WISDOM OF THE SIMPLE
When Galilee took morning's flame Thro' fields of flowers the Master came. He stopped before a cottage door, And took from humble hands the store Of crumbs that from the table fell, And water from the living well. He smiled, and with a great content Upon the road of flowers went.
Foredoomed upon the road of shame With bleeding feet the Master came, And found the cottage door again. "No wine have we to ease Thy pain, But only water in a cup." The Master slowly drank it up. "Thy kindness turns it into wine," He said, "and makes the gift divine."
Upon a day the Master trod The road of stars that leads to God, All tasks for men accomplished. "They gave Me hate," He softly said, "But Love in larger measure gave, And therefore was I strong to save. I had not reached the Cross that day But for the Well beside the way."
THE WISDOM OF THE SIMPLE
If these things be true, if the whole tradition of Jesus is an exposition of love as the law of life, the deduction is entirely simple, and as logical as it is simple. That deduction has been already stated. It is that Christianity is a method of life by which men and women are taught and inspired to love as Jesus loved, and to live loving and lovable lives. It has little to do with creeds, and still less with formal codes of conduct. For this reason such a definition of Christianity will satisfy neither the theologian nor the philosopher. Jesus never expected that it would. He knew that the one would regard it as heretical, and the other as so deficient in subtlety as to seem foolish. Therefore He made His appeal to simple and natural people, saying that what was hidden from the wise and prudent, was revealed to babes.
The simple and natural people understood Jesus; they always do. The sophisticated and artificial people did not understand Him; they never will. With scarcely an exception the people of intelligence and culture regarded Him with disdain, withdrew from Him, or violently opposed Him. The reason for their conduct lay not so much in either their culture or their intelligence, as in the kind of life that seemed to be necessary to them as the expression of their culture.
Thus, they were full of prejudices, prepossessions, and foregone conclusions, all of which had the sanction of their culture. It was enough for them to know that Jesus came from Nazareth and was unlettered; this produced in them violent scorn and antipathy. They were still further offended because He used none of the shibboleths with which they were familiar. Nor could they conceive of any life as satisfactory but the kind of life they lived, and that was a life of social complexity, ruled by conventional usages and maxims, and essentially artificial in ideal and practice. Jesus, therefore, turned from them to the simple and natural people, fishermen, artisans, and humble women, in whom the natural instincts had fuller play. His reward was immediate; then, and ever since, the Common People heard Him gladly.
The reason why simple and natural people readily understand Jesus is that in the kind of life they live the primal emotions are supreme. The very narrowness of their social outlook intensifies those emotions. They have little to distract them; they are not bewildered by endless disquisitions on conduct, and religion itself is for them an emotion rather than a systematized creed. For the poor man home, children, fireside affection, mean more than for the rich man, because they are his only wealth. This is the lesson which Wordsworth has so nobly taught in his "Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle,"—
How, by heaven's grace this Clifford's heart was framed, How he, long forced in humble walks to go, Was softened into feeling, soothed and tamed.
Love had he found in huts where poor men lie; His daily teachers had been woods and rills, The silence that is in the starry sky, The sleep that is among the lonely hills.
People who live thus, in wise simplicity, undistracted by the numerous illusions of an artificial life, have no difficulty in accepting Christ's teaching that love is the supreme law of life, because love means everything to them in the kind of life they lead. In the wisdom of the heart they are more learned than the wisest Pharisee, who is rarely "softened into feeling," whose whole social life indeed imposes a restraint on feeling. What peasant father would not welcome a returning prodigal, what peasant mother would not open her arms wide to gather to her bosom a penitent daughter, recovered from the cruel snare of cities? Certainly one is much more likely to find such acts of pure feeling among peasant folk than among the rich and cultured, for the peasant cares less for opinion, is less respectful of social etiquette, and follows more closely in his actions the instincts of primal affection. Who has not discovered among poor and humble folk a strange and beautiful lenience, the lenience of a great compassion, towards those sins which in more artificial conditions of society are held to justify the most violent condemnation, and do indeed close the heart to pity? In poor men's huts beside the Sea of Galilee Jesus Himself had found love, love in all its divine daring, lenience, and magnanimity, and He knew that among people like these He would be understood. He also knew that the only people fitted to interpret His doctrine of sovereign love to the world were these simple folk of the lake and field, and therefore to them He committed His Gospel, and from them He chose His disciples.
It needed a peasant Christ to teach these things, for no other could have imagined them, no other could have had the daring and simplicity to utter them. A peasant Christ He was, living, thinking, and acting as a peasant even in His highest moments of inspiration. It was because He always remained a peasant that He was able to see so clearly the defects of that more intricate social system to which His ministry introduced Him. He brought with Him a new scale of values, which He had learned in the school of a more primal life than could be found in cities. Nature always spoke in Him, convention never. In His treatment of sin it is always the voice of Nature that we hear triumphing over the verdicts of convention. The sins which convention regards as inexpiable are sins of passion; the sins which it excuses are sins of temper, such as greed, malice, craft, unkindness, cruelty. Jesus entirely reverses the scale. His pity is reserved for outcasts, His harshest words are addressed to those whom the world calls good. Folly He views with infinite compassion—the foolish man is as a lost sheep whose very helplessness invokes our pity. But for the man of hard and self-sufficient nature, whose very righteousness is a mixture of prudence and egoism, He has only words of flame. An offense against virtue counts for less with Him than an offense against love. No wonder the Pharisees called Him a blasphemer! Were the true nature of Christ's teaching understood to-day many who profess to revere Him would join in the same accusation. What more offensive and unpalatable truth could be presented to mankind than this on which Jesus constantly insists, that sins of temper are much more harmful than sins of passion, that they spring from a more incurable malignancy of nature, that they produce far wider and more disastrous suffering?
Yet the truth is clear enough to all broadly truthful and simple natures, which are not bewildered by conventional views of right and wrong. Who has occasioned more suffering, the youth who has sinned against himself in wild folly and repented, or the man who has planned his life with that cold craft and deliberate cruelty which sacrifices everything to self-advantage? Can any human mind measure the various and almost infinite wrongs committed by the man who piles up through years of sordid avarice an unjust fortune? Who can count the broken hearts in the pathway of that implacable ambition which "wades through slaughter to a throne"? These things may not be apparent to the man whose nature is subdued to the hue of that artificial society in which he lives, a society which permits such crimes to pass unquestioned. They are certainly not perceived by the criminals themselves. To-day, as in the day of Christ, they "devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers," save, perhaps, that more blind than the ancient Pharisees, their prayers seem real, and they themselves are unconscious of pretense. Now also, as then, they give their tithes in conventional benevolence, forgetting, and hoping to make others forget, the sources of their wealth in their use of it. How is it that such men are so unconscious of offense? Simply because they have never grasped Christ's deliberate statement that sins of temper are much worse than sins of passion; that cruelty is a worse thing than folly; that the wrong wrought by squandering the substance in a far country is more quickly repaired, and more easily forgiven, than the wrong of hoarding one's substance in the avarice which neglects the poor, or adding to it by methods which trample the weak and humble in the dust, as deserving neither pity nor attention.
Yet it needs but a very brief examination of society to prove the truth of Christ's contention; very little experience of life to discover that the utmost corruption of the human heart lies in lovelessness. The spiteful and rancorous temper, always seeking occasions of offense; the jealous spirit which cannot bear the spectacle of another's joy; the bitter nagging tongue, darting hither and thither like a serpent's fang full of poison, and diabolically skilled in wounding; the sour and grudging disposition, which seems most contented with itself when it has produced the utmost misery in others; the narrow mind and heart destitute of magnanimity; the cold and egoistic temperament, which demands subservience of others and receives their service without thanks, as though the acknowledgment of gratitude were weakness—these are common and typical forms of lovelessness, and who can estimate the sum of suffering they inflict? Their fruit is everywhere the same; love repressed, children estranged, the home made intolerable. It does but add to the offense of these unlovely people that in what the world calls morality they are above reproach, for they instill a hatred of morality itself by their appropriation of it. Before them love flies aghast, and the tenderest emotions of the heart fall withered. Could the annals of human misery be fairly written, it might appear that not all the lusts and crimes which are daily blazoned to the eye have wrought such wide-spread misery, have inflicted such general unhappiness, as these sins of temper, so common in their operation that they pass almost unrebuked, but so wide-spread in their effects that their havoc is discovered in every feature of our social life.
THE REVELATIONS OF GRIEF
THE HOUSE OF PRIDE
I lived with Pride; the house was hung With tapestries of rich design. Of many houses, this among Them all was richest, and 'twas mine. But in the chambers burned no fire, Tho' all the furniture was gold, I sickened of fulfilled desire, The House of Pride was very cold.
I lived with Knowledge; very high Her house rose on a mountain's side. I watched the stars roll through the sky, I read the scroll of Time flung wide. But in that house, austere and bare, No children played, no laughter clear Was heard, no voice of mirth was there, The House was high but very drear.
I lived with Love; all she possest Was but a tent beside a stream. She warmed my cold hands in her breast, She wove around my sleep a dream. And One there was with face divine Who softly came, when day was spent, And turned our water into wine, And made our life a sacrament.
THE REVELATIONS OF GRIEF
Nevertheless there are occasions in life when these things become evident to even the least observant of us. When we stand beside the newly dead the most intolerable reflection of countless mourners is that their tears fall on quiet lips to which they gave scant caresses, in the days of health: their passionate words of love are uttered to unhearing ears, which in life waited eagerly for such assurances as these, and waited vainly. All the purity and beauty of the vanished human soul is revealed to us now, when it is no longer in our power to gladden or delight it with our kindness or our praise. All the willing service rendered to us by those folded hands and resting feet, which we so thanklessly accepted, is seen as a thing dear and precious to us now, when the opportunity of thanks is past forever. What would we give now if but for one brief hour we might recall our dead just to say the tender things we might have said and did not say, through all those days and years when they were with us,—presences familiar and accustomed, moving round us with so soft a tread that we scarce regarded them, nor laid on them detaining hands, nor lifted our preoccupied and careless eyes to theirs!
For most of us, alas, it is not Grief and Love alone who conduct us to the chambers of the dead; the sad and silent Angel of Reproach also stands beside the bed, and the shadow of his wings falls upon the features fixed in their immutable appeal, their pathetic and unwilling accusation. Then it is that veil after veil is lifted from the past, till in the pitiless light we read ourselves with a new understanding of our faults. We see that through some element of hardness in ourselves which we allowed to grow unchecked; through vain pride, or obstinate perversity, or mere thoughtless disregard, we repulsed love from the dominion of our hearts, and made him the servitor of our desires, but no longer the lord of our behaviour and the spirit of our lives. And now as we gaze on these things across the gulf of the irreparable, we see our sin and how it came to pass; how we were unkind not in the things we did but in those we failed to do; how, without being cruel, our denied response to hearts that craved our tenderness became a more subtle cruelty than angry word or hasty blow; how with every duty accurately measured and fulfilled, yet love evaporated in the cold and cheerless atmosphere of repression and aloofness with which we clothed ourselves; and then the significance of Christ's teaching comes home to us, for we know too late, that kindness is more than righteousness, and tenderness more than duty, and that to have loved with all our hearts is the only fulfilling of the law which heaven approves. None, bowed beside the newly dead, ever regretted that they had loved too well; millions have wept the bitterest tears known to mortals because they loved too little, and wronged by their poverty of love the sacred human presences now withdrawn forever from their vision.
But there are other and more joyous ways of learning the truth of Christ's teaching, ways that are accessible to all of us. The best and most joyous way of all is to make experiment of it. Here is a law of life which to the sophisticated mind seems impossible, impracticable, and even absurd. No amount of argument will convince us that we can find in love a sufficient rule of life, or that "to renounce joy for our fellow's sake is joy beyond joy." How are we to be convinced? Only by making the experiment, for we really believe only that which we practice. "I wish I had your creed, then I would live your life," said a seeker after truth to Pascal, the great French thinker. "Live my life, and you will soon have my creed," was the swift reply. The solution of all difficulties of faith lies in Pascal's answer, which is after all but a variant of Christ's greater saying, "He that willeth to do the will of God, shall know the doctrine." Is not the whole reason why, for so many of us, the religion of Christ which we profess has so little in it to content us, simply this, that we have never heartily and honestly tried to practice it? We have accepted Christ's religion indeed, as one which upon the whole should be accepted by virtuous men, or as one which has sufficient superiorities to certain other forms of religion to turn the scale of our intellectual hesitation, and win from us reluctant acquiescence. But have we accepted it as the only authoritative rule of practice? Have we ever tried to live one day of our life so that it should resemble one of the days of the Son of Man? Knowing what He thought and did, and how He felt, have we ever tried to think and act and feel as He did—and if we have not, what wonder that our religion, being wholly theoretical, appears to us tainted with unreality, a thin-spun web of barren, fragile idealism which leaves us querulous and discontented?
Such a sense of discontent should be for us, as it really is, the signal of some deep mistake in our conception of religion. It should at least cause us alarm, for what can be more alarming than that we should be haunted with a sense of unreality in religion, yet still profess religion for reasons which leave the heart indifferent and barely serve to satisfy the intellect? And what can produce a keener torture in a sincere mind than this eternal suspicion of unreality in a religion whose conventional authority is acknowledged and accepted?
I am convinced that these feelings are general among great multitudes of the more thoughtful and intelligent adherents of Christianity. Religion rests with them upon a certain intellectual acquiescence, or upon the equipoise of rational probabilities, or on the compromise of intellectual hesitations. Their tastes are gratified by the normal forms of worship, and their sentiments are softly stirred and stimulated. But when the voice of the orator dies upon the porches of the ear, and the music of the Church is silent, and the seduction of splendid ceremonial is forgotten, there remains the uneasy sense that between all this and the actual Carpenter-Redeemer there is a wide gulf fixed; that Jesus scarcely lived and died to produce only such results as these; that there must be some other method of interpreting His life, much simpler, much truer, and much more satisfying. Is it wonderful that among such men the current forms of Christianity excite no enthusiasm, and that the bonds of their attachment to it are lax and easily dissolved? And what is felt by these men within the Church is felt with much greater strength by multitudes of sincere men outside the Church, who do not hesitate to express their feeling and to pronounce current Christianity a burlesque and tragic travesty upon the real religion of the Nazarene.
But the moment we do begin to live, however inefficiently, as Jesus lived, the sublime reality of His religion is revealed to us. We do actually find that in the postponement of our own desires for the sake of others; in the abandonment of our own apparently legitimate ambitions for the service of the poor; in the patient endurance of affront and injury; in the forgiveness of those whose wrong seems inexpiable; in the daily exercise of love that "seeketh not itself to please," but hopeth all things, and believeth all things,—there is a joy beyond joy, and an exceeding great reward. We do actually find that to forgive our brother freely is better both for him and us than to judge him harshly, and the wisdom of Jesus is thus justified in its moral and social efficacy. We do actually find that in ceasing to live by worldly maxims and by living instead according to the maxims of Jesus, we have attained a form of happiness so incredibly sweet and pure that the world holds nothing that resembles it, and nothing that we would exchange for it. For this is now our great reward, that peace attends our footsteps, and that our hearts are no longer vexed with the perturbations of vanity and self-love, of envy and revenge. We find human nature answering to our touch even as it answered to the touch of Jesus, and revealing to us all its best and purest treasure. We find the very natures we thought intractable and destitute of all affinity with ours, brought near our own; the very men and women we thought wholly alien to us suddenly made lovable, and full of qualities that claim our love. And as we thus humbly follow in the steps of Jesus, trying to live each day as He lived, we know that sublimest joy of all—we feel Jesus acting once more through our actions, and we see in the eyes that meet our own the same look that Jesus saw in the eyes of those whom He had cured of misery and redeemed from sin.
THE NOBLEST GRACE
'Tis something, when the day draws to its close, To say, "Tho' I have borne a burdened mind, Have tasted neither pleasure nor repose, Yet this remains—to all men, friends or foes, I have been kind."
'Tis something, when I hear Death's awful tread Upon the stair, that his swift eye shall find Upon my heart old wounds that often bled For others, but no heart I injured— I have been kind.
Praise will not comfort me when I am dead; Yet should one come, by tenderness inclined, My heart would know if he stooped o'er my bed And kissed my lips for memory, and said "This man was kind."
O Lord, when from Thy throne Thou judgest me, Remember, tho' I was perverse and blind, My heart went out to men in misery, I gave what little store I had to Thee, My life was kind.
In speaking thus I do but speak of those things which have been revealed to me in my own experience. For many years I preached the truths of Christianity with a real sincerity, but with a fluctuating sense of their authority and value. Sometimes their authority seemed supreme, and then I trod on bright clouds high above the world; at other times they appeared to crumble at my touch, and then I walked in darkness. One thing I saw at intervals, and at last with complete and agonized distinctness, that however I preached these truths, they had little visible effect upon the lives of others. Those to whom I preached lived after all much as other people lived. I did not find them more magnanimous than the ordinary men and women of the world, nor less liable to take offense, to utter harsh words, to indulge in resentments, and to retaliate on those who injured them. I did not find that they loved humanity any better than their fellows; like all mankind they loved those who loved them, and had domestic virtues and affections, but little more. It was impossible to say that Christianity had produced in them any type of character wholly and radically different from that which might be found in multitudes of men and women who made no pretense of Christian sentiment. Christianity had no doubt imposed upon them many valuable restraints, so that without it they might have been worse men and women, but this was a merely negative result. Where was the spectacle of a character composed of new qualities, a life wholly governed by novel impulses and principles? I could not find such a life; nor ought I to have been surprised; for I could not find it in myself. I also lived much as other people did, except that I had a higher theory of conduct. Put to the test, I also showed resentment and was moved with the spirit of retaliation towards those who wronged me. Nor, save as a matter of theory and sentiment, did I love my fellows any better than the average of mankind. I sought those who were congenial to me, and had no pleasure in the company of the common and the ignorant. I liked clever people. I gave them my best, but I had nothing to bestow upon the dull and stupid. How many times have I borne the society of inferior people with ungracious tolerance, and hastened from them with undisguised relief? How often when dealing with the poor and ignorant in the exercise of conventional philanthropy, have I been careful to preserve the sense of a great gulf that yawned between me and them? And what was my daily life after all but a life existing for its own purposes, as most other men's lives were; and what credit could I take for the fact that the nature of those purposes was a trifle more consonant with what the world calls high ideals than theirs?