By Harris Franklin Rall
The word "brother" is a word that is often lightly used. The "brotherhood of man" is a phrase that is frequently upon men's lips. Often it means no more than the physical or social unity of the race. We have seen that Jesus took the word "brother" and extended it to all men. But he did far more. He deepened it, and filled it with new and richer meaning. He made of it a great demand, a life for men to live with each other. We are to study now in some detail what this life of brotherhood requires, and we begin with this principle: Every human being is sacred in the sight of God and demands from each of us reverence and regard.
The Worth Of A Man
God's Reverence for Man.—The law of reverence and regard begins with God. God has pity for all his creatures, but for man he has reverence. Man may be weak like other creatures, or even sinful; but he is a personal being like God; God is Father and man is child. All else that we know in God's universe is instrument, but man is end. The world is here for the sake of man, not man for the sake of the world. Man alone can know what truth is, and righteousness, and love. He can set before himself a goal and follow after it. But the highest is this: he can know God and live in fellowship with God. And this is true not simply of the wise and the strong; it belongs to men as men, to all human kind.
The Value of a Man.—From all this follows the infinite value of the human soul. He points out to men what their own life is worth: "What doth it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and forfeit his life?" (Mark 8. 36, 37.) What Jesus means is not a man's physical life, nor yet the soul's existence beyond the grave; he means his true life as a man and a child of God both here and yonder. His reference to the child has the same meaning, the priceless worth of a single human soul. Here is the child, he says, the weakest and the least of human kind; yet it were better for a man, like the criminals in Galilee, to be cast into the lake with a millstone about his neck, than to make even one such child to stumble (Mark 9. 42). The parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep assert the same great truth. Though the shepherd has ninety and nine sheep, the one lost sheep is yet dear to him. The woman cannot forget her tenth piece of silver though she has nine others. So God cannot forget a single child of his that wanders. Every single human being has infinite value in his eyes. And all heaven rejoices when one who is lost comes back (Luke 15. 1-10).
The Law Of Reverence in Jesus' Life
Jesus' Treatment of Men.—God's estimate of men and God's treatment of them is revealed in Jesus' conduct as well as in his teaching. There is no man who does not have infinite value for Jesus, and none whom he does not treat as personal being. He had his friends to whom he was specially drawn—Peter, James, John, the household at Bethany; but no man came under his eye so poor, so sinful, so wretched that Jesus did not care for him. He received them all, publican, harlot, thief on the cross; each one he treated as a human being. He had respect for their mind. He did not simply say, "You must believe this"; he appealed to them as reasoning beings, "What think ye?" He had respect for their wills. He did not simply throw out commands; he set forth ideals, a life. Above all, he showed his reverence for men by giving himself to them. He became their companion, their friend.
His Attitude Toward Sinners.—One might write a chapter on "Jesus as Gentleman," if one could only restore to the latter word its fine and true meaning. Pure and strong himself, toward the sinful and weak Jesus was always the gentle man. There was that in him which the psalmist saw in God:
With what thoughtfulness and consideration he treats men t He does not say to Zacchaeus, "Traitor to your people and robber of men, come down." He says, "Zacchaeus, I must be your guest to-day." He can be bold in denouncing, but he does not shame and humiliate. Most beautifully is his spirit revealed in his treatment of the woman taken in adultery (John 8. 1-11). She was a mere harlot to her accusers. They were not caring for her; they were willing to trample her last bit of self-respect under foot in this effort to embarrass Jesus with their question. For him she is still a woman, a person. While they are making their charge he will not look up from the ground. When he raises his head at length, it is to face them, and not her. And then, stooping again, he leaves them with that searching word.
God's Way with Men.—And all this reflects God's way with men. He does not drive men; he leads them with a patience that is measured by the ages. His method with the race is that of education. By sorrows and by joys, by gifts and tasks alike, he seeks to lead men on. But always he respects the human personality; there is no compulsion, no outer force. He has made man to know and he appeals to man's thought: "Come now, and let us reason together" (Isaiah 1.18). He has made men to love, and he appeals to their affection: "When Israel was a child, then I loved him." "I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love" (Hosea 11. 1, 4). He offers man his friendship: "If any man . . . open the door, I will come in." But here again there is reverence for man. Man must choose freely; God never breaks down the door. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock," he says (Revelation 3. 20).
Reverence For Self
The Higher Self.—Such a reverence for human personality on God's part has far-reaching meaning for us. It means obligation as well as privilege, and first of all the obligation of reverence for oneself. That does not involve egotism or self-esteem, nor does it mean selfishness. Every man has in him three beings. There is the man that men see, and that may be very far from the real man. There is the man that he himself sees—at his worst a man of weakness and sin, at his best still incomplete. And then there is the man that God sees, the ideal that God plans for us all. That is the true man. We are not "worms of the earth," or "creatures of the dust." We are God's children, and we must live up to that high calling.
The Sin Against Self.—The story of the rich fool gives us Jesus' teaching here (Luke 12. 13-21). This man had not oppressed his neighbors, he was not guilty of vice or crime. He had failed in reverence for his real self. He was a man, and he had put himself down on the level of things. He was a soul in God's image; he had treated himself as a body which was to eat and drink and possess. If it be a sin to treat other men as mere machines, it is just as truly a sin for a man to treat himself that way. He who treats himself as a body to be fed instead of a soul that is to live, as a creature of earth instead of a son of God—he is guilty of irreverence toward man in his own person. Drunkenness and gluttony, greed and pride, are all sins against this true self, a lack of reverence for human personality, which God puts above the world. And so anger and fear, hatred and malice, and all the rest are sins against self, defiling God's image. Better far that a man cut off his right hand or pluck out his right eye.
Reverence For Fellow Man
The Sin of Scorn.—Most searching is this law of reverence for personality when applied to our relations with men. No sin was more common in Jesus' day than the scorn of man for man. The priest was the bitter foe of the Pharisee, and proud of his own position and lineage. The Pharisee in turn despised the common man who did not keep the strict law. The Jew hated the Samaritan, and both shared in fierce scorn for the taxgatherer. They themselves were despised as a race by the Greek and the Roman, and they returned that feeling with interest. No sin did Jesus rebuke more severely than the sin of scorn against men (Matthew 18. 10). He places anger side by side with murder; and with even severer condemnation he visits him who calls his brother worthless, or fool (Matthew 5. 21-24). It is this that lies back of his severe treatment of the scribes and Pharisees. A liberal Jewish scholar,1 who is not lacking in large appreciation of the spirit and teaching of Jesus, complains that Jesus did not observe his own law of good will in his denunciation of the Pharisees. But Jesus scourges these men, not because of what they did to him, but because of what they did to the people, whom they scorned on the one hand and led astray upon the other. Back of his condemnation is this same regard for men.
The Failure of the Old World.—In the world to which Jesus came there were many sacred things. Religious traditions and institutions were sacred, and because Jesus ran counter to these they led him to his death. The state was sacred, and property, and rank, and ancient privilege. But man was not sacred. The Jews were advanced beyond others in their regard for human rights; but beside national prejudice which scorned other peoples, there was the fact of slavery and the position of woman. A Jew might divorce his wife almost at will. She herself had no recourse, nor could she bring similar action against him. Woman was not treated as a full personality. Her position was even worse in other lands. She did not stand in the law for herself or by herself; she must always belong to some one, to father, to husband, or, in their absence, to brother or son. The institution of slavery was even more significant. The Roman empire numbered its slaves by millions, and there were far more slaves in Italy than free men. The slaves were often of the same race as their masters. As slaves, however, they were not men, but property. They could be scourged, imprisoned, and even tilled.
The Rule of Reverence To-Day.—The principle of reverence for human personality underlies social advance in every field to-day. Jesus did not discuss the modern problems with which we are familiar, the questions of industry, politics, war, education, the position of woman, the rights of the child. And yet by his teaching of reverence for human personality Jesus has done more to solve these problems than the greatest world leader of our times. Democracy is one great expression of it, for democracy rests back upon the simple truth of the worth of man as man. World peace is another conclusion drawn from it; for war springs from the greeds and hates of national governments, and sacrifices the common man. Where Jesus' principle prevails, war must go. The movement for social and industrial justice also rests upon this principle. We are no longer content to talk about great factories and a big balance of trade. What does all this mean for the men and women that work? Have they a fair share of what is brought forth? Are they decently housed and properly fed? Is there work for the man that wants it? Are children rightly born into the world and rightly trained for life? More and more we are seeing how radical this principle of Jesus is. Only one thing is sacred, not property or profit, not the state nor the church: manhood is sacred and manhood alone. Everything else must answer the test: What does this mean for the welfare of human beings?
The Rule Of Reverence As An Instrument Of Power
Reverence and Life.—This rule of reverence and regard for moral personality has another most important meaning. We must remember it not simply in giving men their rights, but in our efforts to serve men. You can mold clay into bricks by the mere use of force from without; you cannot help men that way. You may be dealing with the little child who is all ignorant, or with the criminal who seems to have forfeited all rights; but if you are to train in the one case, or to reform in the other, you must remember that you are dealing with personal beings, not with things. The rule of reverence and regard must be observed. In the one, as in the other, there is a personal life. Unless you reverence that life and seek to enlist its forces, you are helpless.
Jesus' Method and Its Power.—We have seen that this was Jesus' method, to reverence the human in man and to call it forth; and no one has shown the power of that method more than he. He combined here two needed qualities for the helpful dealing with men. First, he saw clearly what was. No one saw more plainly the sins and faults of men; he was no dreamy sentimentalist. Second, he had faith in what might be; and so he called forth all that was in men. He touched them with his spirit, and they rose in newness of life. He gave them confidence, confidence in God, confidence in themselves. To others they were harlots, publicans, sinners; he treated them like men, like children of God. And they responded to his faith.
Directions For Study
The Scripture passages: Luke 15. 1-10; John 8. 1-11; Luke 12. 13-21; Mark 8. 36, 37; Matthew 18. 1-14; 5. 21-24.
Most of these Scripture passages we have already studied from other standpoints. Go over them rapidly, but carefully, with one thought in mind: what do they teach of the infinite worth of a human soul and the right regard for it?
Study first the Christian basis for this truth: that man is like God, and was made for God as God's son. Is there any other sufficient basis for this law of reverence?
Now consider in the light of this truth of what man is, Jesus' attitude toward men, God's attitude as thus revealed by Jesus, and what our attitude should be.
Point out where the greatest advances have been made in our modern life in line with this principle. Point out some features of our modern life which still contradict this truth.
1) Montefiore, The Religious Teaching of Jesus.