By Harris Franklin Rall
It would be of little value to review this course perfunctorily chapter by chapter. But it will be well worth our while to pause long enough to ask what the heart of Jesus' message is. The great philosopher Kant once said that all the searchings of man might be summed up in three questions: What can I know? What must I do? What may I hope for? We will let these three questions give us the outline for a summary of Jesus' teaching.
The Christian Faith According To Jesus
What We Need Most to Know.—There are lesser questions and larger questions of knowledge. Man is curious about the earth and the heavens, about the history of the past, and about himself; but the greatest question is the question about God. Every study leads to this at last. We study geology and biology and botany and the rest, but when we have finished we are still face to face with the real questions: Whence did this world come? What does it mean? Where is it going? We ask the same questions about our individual lives and about the human race and about the worlds above us. And there is no answer to any of these ultimate questions until we find God.
God as the Answer to All Questions.—We have found that for Jesus God was not only the supreme interest of his life, but it was the thought of God that decided everything in his teaching. When we ask him what our life is to be, he does not give us a set of rules, but simply says, "You must be sons like your Father." When we ask about the life of men together, he says, "You must live together as children of this Father." When we ask about prayer, he points us again to God; God hears and God cares, and that is why we should pray, just as children go to their father. When we ask about the future, it is the same; God has all power, and so he will some time rule; he is all love, and so we need not fear.
The God of Power and Righteousness.—What did he teach about this Father? Many things that prophet and psalmist had taught before. The Old Testament shows us the God of power and the God of righteousness, and Jesus believed in that God. He had no thought of bringing a new God. His God was the God who had made heaven and earth according to the old creation story, the God of majesty and power shown to us in that sublime chapter of Isaiah 40. He believed with the prophets in the God of righteousness, the God who hated iniquity and oppression, who loved clean hands and humble hearts more than sacrifice or other offering.
The Father.—But Jesus' supreme word for God was not Creator, nor yet Holy One; it was Father. The holiness and the power are always there, but his great message is that of the unutterable good will of God toward men. He it was who taught men, when they prayed, to say "Our Father." He bade each man to say this, and to know that God cared for him by himself. He lifted religion thus above all divisions of race and class, for this Father cared for every child. He made religion a personal relation, a loving fellowship between each man and his Father. And so he made manhood the one sacred thing on earth, since each man was the object of this God's loving care. Holiness was still present in this God, but it was not a holiness that separated God from men or made of him simply the judge; rather it was the holiness that drew nigh to men to lift them out of their sin, that by its love was overcoming sin in the world. The power was still present in this God of Jesus, but it was a power that was ruled by love and that men could trust with joy.
The Christian Life According To Jesus
The True Life Is Sonship.—If the Christian faith means Fatherhood, then the Christian life can be put in the one word sonship. The heart of this teaching we found in the Sermon on the Mount, and specially in Matthew 6. 3848. How simple the answer that he gives. He brushes aside endless rules and laws and ceremonies, the burdens that priests and scribes had placed upon men. He has only one rule: that men are to be like their Father, that his spirit of holy good will is to rule their lives. And yet how searching his demand is! Offerings and ceremonies and words and outward deeds will not do. He pushes relentlessly to the heart of the matter. Is the thought pure? he demands. You have not committed murder, but have you been angry? You have not committed adultery, but has there been lust in your glance? If you want to be a son, then the heart of your life, your inner spirit, must belong to God. And that is not all. That inner spirit must rule all the life. You cannot give one holy day and feel that you have satisfied God; you cannot give a tithe and think that God has no more claim. Nothing less than all your life belongs to him. His own spirit of good will must rule it all.
Two Sides of Sonship.—This life of sonship we studied in two relations. It is first of all the life of the son with his Father, and then the life of sons together as brothers. These two cannot be separated. The fellowship with the Father gives depth and power and inspiration to life. The fellowship with men gives the opportunity for expression; without it there is no real love of God, no real service, and no true growth of the soul. Jesus not only joined these together in his teaching of the one law of love for God and man, but illustrated them in his life which joined the nights of prayer with the days of ministry.
The Spirit of Humility and Desire.—What does Jesus teach about the life of the son with his Father? Strangely enough, he does not put righteousness first, as men had done before him. He knows that all that we have must come from God; that it is what the Father gives us and does for us that makes us sons; and so the first thing that he asks is humility and desire. To desire God and to open your heart to him, that is the first need. This begins in repentance, where a man with clear purpose and true sorrow turns from his sin and faces toward God. It goes through his whole life as a spirit of humility, of utter dependence, of constant high desire. Jesus praises it in the Beatitudes, he sets it forth in the child, he illustrates it in the prayer of the penitent publican.
Obedience and Trust.—Next Jesus puts obedience. That is the test of desire as it is of faith. In the spirit of the old prophets he teaches men. that the final test is the obedient will: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father." "Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock." And in the judgment scene he does not speak of what men said, or believed, or felt. What he says is, "Inasmuch as ye did."
With obedience he placed trust. If this God is utterly good and at the same time wholly powerful, then it is our part to give ourselves absolutely and to trust him perfectly. The two sins which Jesus points out in Matthew 6 are the divided trust and the divided obedience. Men feared God, but they feared the world also and were anxious about their lives. They loved God, but they loved the world also and were eager for earthly treasures. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon," Jesus says. "Seek first the kingdom of God," and "Be not anxious": these are his two rules for the life of peace and strength.
The Life of Prayer.—The heart of this life with God is prayer. Here it all comes to expression. Here penitence and desire, obedience and trust and love, all come to utterance. How much prayer means Jesus set forth by his own example. Luke in particular shows how the great crises in his life were all preceded by nights spent in prayer. In his teaching Jesus is especially concerned with encouraging men to pray. This is the aim of most of his parables and sayings about prayer. He tried to make men see the goodness of this Father, his interest in all his children, even the least, and his willingness, even eagerness, to give to his children. He wanted to lead them into that life of peace and joy and strength which was his.
The Life with Men.—And then comes the life of the son with his brothers. Here again Jesus has no long list of rules, but he holds up an ideal that lights up all these questions and that has been a transforming power in the world. The simple ideal is this: every man is to be God's son and is to show the spirit of the Father in his life with his brothers. Simple as it is, this again is complete and is searching. Notice the elements involved.
The first is the fact of brotherhood. How that cuts across human passions and prejudices. There are no favored races with God. There are differences in color and capacity and character, but more important than all these differences is what we have in common: we are all children of one God. He knows no divisions.
The second element is the law of brotherhood. This law is determined for us by the Spirit of the Father. It is a law of reverence, because all men are his children and our brothers. It is a law of good will, that does not depend upon what men deserve from us. It is a law of service, in which each man looks upon life as the chance to give to others rather than an effort to get for himself. And this law of good will belongs in business and state, and not only in our private relations. And it should rule the life between nation and nation as well as between man and man.
The Christian and the World.—To these two chief relations one other might be added—a man's relation to the world of things. Here too the thought of the Father must guide us. The son will look upon the world as the Fathers house and will therefore not be afraid. Rather he will rejoice in all the good and beautiful things that his Father has made. At the same time he will realize that the house is just the shell that contains the life. He fails in life who lives for these things and forgets the God who made them; such a man is like the rich farmer whom Jesus called a fool. But there is also a positive side to the world. Its work, its trials, its gifts are all means for making men, for growing character. And work and wealth are man's chance to serve God and his fellows.
The Christian Hope According To Jesus
What May a Man Expect from God?—The third great question that a man asks is, "What may I hope for?" That means first of all the question of God's help to men here and now. Jesus taught the goodness of God whose joy it is to give to his children. He taught that the chief of God's great gifts is forgiveness. This forgiveness with Jesus is not an incident at the beginning of the Christian life, but the heart of God's love throughout our life. It means that our Father, despite our sin and weakness, takes us into his fellowship as his children. In that fellowship everything else is given, joy and peace and strength and love. Forgiveness stands thus for the whole life of God in man: it is God's gift of himself. He taught men the privilege of prayer. With such a God and such gifts awaiting us, prayer becomes a high privilege and a high duty.
The Hope of Future Life.—Jesus offered men a hope that looked beyond this life. He did not say much about heaven, but he held that men would gather as they had reaped (Matthew 25. 31-46). He believed in a judgment upon men. For himself death was only an incident on the way to a larger life. He held up clearly and definitely this hope for others (Luke 16. 22). That life was to be different from this life, but he did not seek to describe or try to answer our questions about it. He could leave all that with his Father, because he believed so utterly in the power of God (Matthew 22. 29-32).
The Hope of the Kingdom.—But the great hope that Jesus held forth was that of the coming rule of God, the "kingdom of God," as it is translated in our Bibles. It was this thought that filled his heart with joy, this was the gospel, the "good news" that he preached to men. Men have disputed as to when Jesus thought that this new world of God's rule was coming and as to just how it was coming. These are the lesser matters. More important is it to see what Jesus meant by this and to gain his conviction and his vision. God's Kingdom meant for him God's rule in the world, and God's rule meant first of all his life in men. For that reason he saw the beginnings of the Kingdom before his eyes. Where men were healed and sins were forgiven, where he saw penitence and faith and love in men's hearts, there he saw the Kingdom already present. But these were only the beginnings. Some time all the world was to be under God's rule, and some time sin and oppression and misrule of every kind should yield to the one rule of God. In that hope he died; in that hope his followers live this day.
Directions For Study
Read through the entire chapter.
Jot down on paper the three main aspects of Jesus' teaching as indicated in this chapter. Now go through the book and write down the title of each chapter under the head where it belongs. A few chapters will not fit Into this division. Note that the book does not, however, follow the order of these three divisions.
As you thus go through the book, write down some of the most helpful or suggestive truths that have come to you from your study of the teachings of Jesus.
Write down in your own words the answer to the following great questions: What do I believe about God? How should a man live with God? How should a man live with his fellow men? What may we hope for the future? After you have written these answers, consider how far your faith has been molded by Jesus Christ.