The first of these parables shows the founding of the kingdom by the seed of the word, which, according to the state of the heart, has always a different result,—now bringing forth no fruit at all, now only growing up and passing away, now bringing forth little fruit, and now yielding rich and abiding fruit. Finally, the third parable, by the figure of the mustard-seed, describes the result, magnificent beyond expectation, which is reached at the end of the development, of the embracing greatness of the kingdom in its completion as it has grown out of small beginnings.
A related, and yet again a specifically coloured, thought is contained in the parable of the leaven, which is placed in Luke and Matthew along with that of the mustard-seed, according to which the kingdom of God is apprehended as a spiritual principle eternally permeating and transforming humanity. In this parable, and that of the gradually growing seed—which Mark alone has iv.
This is a common opinion at the present day, nor is its correctness in itself to be contested from the standpoint of our thinking; yet it must be pronounced an erroneous view, if this consequence is attributed to the consciousness of Jesus himself; for it would stand in manifest contradiction with many clear expressions in the Gospels. Besides, it is psychologically quite conceivable, and it is a fact confirmed by innumerable analogies of history, that old deeply-rooted religious notions that are supported by the authority of tradition are not set aside all at once by new ideas, but they continue to exist along with these ideas, while they gradually lose in significance under their influence, or even alter their meaning.
So it was in this case too. One might perhaps say that in his intellectual conception of the kingdom of God this side did remain always the main thing, but its significance became different to his practical religious frame of mind.
This is shown above all by this, that in the delineation of the future given by Jesus, the national political feature of Messianism is completely wanting: the hope of the Jews for a glorious revenge on their oppressors found in the pure and great soul of Jesus no echo at all. What for him has alone importance in the great day of the Lord is, that the moral results of every individual life shall come to manifestation; the faithful servant will enter into the joy of his Lord, the proud and secure sinners will be excluded from the communion of the blessed; the judgment will also bring to complete external accomplishment and to definite manifestation the separation between the wheat and the tares, the good and bad fishes, which is already internally present, and is grounded in the moral nature of individuals.
It is reduced to the purely religious thought of a future realising of moral ideas and worths. Without affecting the sensuous poetic form of the hope of the future of his peoples Jesus, with the immediate tact of the religious genius, put into relief the moral and religious content which was of abiding value. He bridged over the gulf between the present and the future.
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As the future dominion of God already projects into the present as a victorious working of the spirit, so, the present with its moral being and achievement already bears the fates of the future, of the eternal consummation, in its bosom. It is the seed which ripens to the harvest. Thus apprehended, the thought of the future is no longer the fantastic dream of the Apocalyptic writers, which seduces the mind into a quietistic indifference towards the tasks of the Now and Here ; but it becomes the powerful motive of moral working on the person of the individual himself and on the world.
But in what does this righteousness which is to be demanded from the associate or member of the kingdom Consist? It consists — says Jesus at first, along with the whole of his people—in doing the will of God. The perfect, God can require from man, His child, nothing less than to be perfect as He Himself is perfect. Jesus therefore did not destroy the law, but he fulfilled it by carrying it back to its last and highest end, the absolute Ideal of Godlike perfection.
But in this highest requirement there lies at the same time enclosed the highest dignity and the highest happiness of man; for the perfection which we are to strive after is that of our Father, whose nature we bear in us and in whose image we are created. To become like Him means, therefore, only to fulfil our most proper destination, to realise our true nature, to become in full truth that which we already are in the ground of our being—namely, children of God, spirit of His spirit.
But the essential nature of God as the Father is love, which communicates itself and is inexhaustibly rich in giving and forgiving. Accordingly the Godlike sentiment required from us can consist in nothing else than in love to God with all our heart and to our neighbour as to ourselves.
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Both commandments are undoubtedly already found in the Old Testament, but not connected with each other, and the second is limited to the members of the same people. Jesus abolished this limitation, and extended the commandment to our fellow-men generally; and he brought the two commandments into the closest connection with each other, and set them forth as the sum of the whole law, as the one religious-moral principle from which all individual commandments are to receive their moral estimation and significance.
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Religion and morality are therefore brought into indissoluble connection by Jesus, and thereby each of them is raised to its Ideal elevation. There is to be no religion in the Christian world that should not be a motive of genuine moral sentiment and mode of action, and no morality which should not have the root of its power and the guarantee of its purity in the consciousness of religious obligation. With this there was first given an entirely new estimation of ritualistic action this is no longer a service performed to God by which man might acquire merit with God and purchase His favours, as Judaism and Heathenism supposed; but it is the satisfaction of man's need to give expression to his pious sentiment, and hence has worth only in so far as it is the utterance of this inward state.
The external ceremonial or ascetic performance by itself alone is worthless ostentation—hypocrisy. Hence ritualistic performances are never to be set before the fulfilment of the simple moral duties, or even put in their place. On the other hand, Jesus demands that the act of bringing gifts to the altar shall be interrupted when it is a question of becoming reconciled with an injured brother; and he ascribes value to prayer only in so far as it is the intercourse of the soul with its God, far from all external ostentation—the expression of childlike trust in God.
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Unlimited trust in the bountiful providence of the heavenly Father, and undivided surrender of the whole self and of all one's property to the service of His kingdom—this it is in which the love to God has to exhibit itself. The trust in God which, as the fundamental mood of the mind of Jesus, runs through all his discourses, especially in the beginning of his Galilean ministry, is the world - overcoming Idealism of the Psalms and Prophets, which soars away above all that is finite directly to God, and knows its own life secure in its Father's will.
The exhortation to trusting in God, in the sense of Jesus, therefore includes at the same time these two things : the requirement of renunciation of all selfish wishes and godless enjoyment of the world, and the assurance of the fulfilment of the true desire that is directed to the highest, along with the satisfaction likewise of the earthly wants that belong to human existence, in so far as they are subordinated to this desire. No thought is to be taken about eating and drinking and clothing as the heathen do, who seek after these things as the highest, and as ends in themselves ; but these things are nevertheless not to be denied their relative value on that account.
No man can serve two masters, God. Men are even to unloose themselves from the bonds of earthly love to their nearest relatives, to renounce natural rights, to bear wrong and shame without resistance, to love their enemies and to bless them that curse them, to pluck out their very members that might become an offence to them — that is, to mortify the natural impulses — and even to hate and lose their own soul for Christ's sake, so that they might save it for the eternal life Matt. It is intelligible that such utterances of Jesus should be made the subject of very different judgments.
They contain, in fact, the deepest truth of his religious ethics, together with its temporal limit. The deepest truth which Jesus impressed for the first time on humanity, and with a power such as no one else ever did, is this, Die and live again. Hence it is incumbent to lose one's own soul — that is, utterly to deny one's own will in so far as it would like to be something in itself, without and against God.
However near this requirement appears to approach the principles of Indian asceticism and Stoical apathy, yet the distinction between them in principle is quite apparent. In Jesus the denial of self and the world is not the final thing, nor an end in itself, but is only a means of gaining the true self and a better world! The sacrifices made for Christ's cause will be indemnified by a hundredfold compensation Matt. Accordingly the ascetic demand in the case of Jesus does not rest, as it commonly does elsewhere in antiquity, upon a radical dualism between finite and infinite, nor upon unconditional negation and depreciation of the finite in favour of the sole justification of the infinite.
From this error of an abstract pantheistic mysticism Jesus had been kept by his faith in the living God, the Father of spirits, whose nature it is to communicate Himself to His children, and therefore to preserve and not to annihilate their life. What is to be denied is only the false life of man that is at enmity with God, the life of the man who is still involved in the immediate state of nature, and who has not yet become aware, or participative, of his true nature as man and as child of God.
As the corn of wheat bringeth not forth fruit unless it die, so man cannot realise his true nature as a Godlike spirit otherwise than by a breach with his false self, with that mode of existence which is hostile to God, and with the spirit of his sensuouslyselfish tendency of life which is natural to him. Nevertheless an unbiassed historical view will not be able to overlook the fact that this truth in Jesus' mode of apprehension and expression, as the Gospels exhibit it, appears clothed in a form which we can no longer now appropriate unchanged.
But the utterances of Jesus concerning the sacrifices to be made and the reward to be expected, in the case of his disciples, certainly go beyond this ethical sense; just as certainly as his utterances regarding the end of the world, and the future of the kingdom of God or the Son of Man, cannot be understood as merely allegories, but only as statements concerning external world-renewing events in the future. The ascetic negation of the present actual world and its social order has not therefore entered into Christian morals only at a later time, but has its roots in the morality of Jesus himself, and more particularly in the fact that in the consciousness of Jesus moral Idealism clothed itself in the form of eschatological supernaturalism.
This was just the historically inevitable form, and in fact also the entirely suitable form, under which it was alone possible to introduce the new ideal spirit of Christianity into the world. The new spirit could not but put itself at first in harsh opposition to the old world, to all its forms of life, even to its higher moral goods. This was necessary, till it acquired such strength that it could become master of the resisting material of the world. Then could the mediation of the ascetic supernaturalism with the natural conditions of the life of earthly humanity begin in the forms of the historical self-organising life of the Christian community.
Certainly the lingering influence of the original ascetic supernaturalism was still preserved in the form of the Catholic Monasticism, that institution in which the Church has continued to maintain its world-denying tendency along with its world-ruling power. It was the Reformation which did away with this remnant of the primitive Christian asceticism. The Protestant ethics finds the kingdom of God in the God-pleasing formation of the Society of this world; and thereby the striving after this kingdom is also divested of its initial ascetic supernaturalistic character, and put into harmony with the earthly conditions of the life of society.
It thus becomes a striving for the realisation of the divine idea of humanity, not in the world beyond the present, but within the forms of its early manifestation, within the spheres of labour, of the family, of society, of the state, within the fulfilment of duty in man's common earthly calling. And thereby we Protestants have certainly recognised and preserved the abiding ideal truth of the ascetic utterances of Jesus and the New Testament; but, on the other hand, it is not to be disputed that we have thereby departed far from the proper original meaning of the ascetic supernaturalism of Jesus and of the primitive Christianity.
This deviation, however, is not an arbitrary thing, but has been a necessary result of the providential development of Christianity itself. It is only by giving to the historical testimonies regarding the preaching of Jesus altogether their full due, without prejudice or stint, that we can also understand its consequences.
If Jesus had only taught an ideal morality, he would at most have founded a school of pure Jewish righteousness, not a new religion; but in that case he would hardly have evoked the passionate hostility of the worldly rulers, which brought destruction to himself but victory for his work. On the other hand, if he had only proclaimed the Apocalyptic dream of the near world-end and the dawn of the new world, he would have founded a sect of fanatics which would have perished in one of the numerous Messianic risings, without leaving a trace behind. But the combination of ethical idealism with Apocalyptic supernaturalism gave the possibility of a work which was as powerful as it was thorough and lasting.
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It awakened in the contemporaries of the time and people of Jesus the enthusiasm for a comprehensible Ideal that attracted their fancy, and banded them around the person of Jesus as the surety of its realisation; and thus they became receptive for the morally educative work of Jesus, and learned from him the significant new truth that the way to the heights of the kingdom of heaven passes through the depths of serving and suffering love. Jesus did not directly deny the Apocalyptic ideal of the future; but in showing in word and example a new way to its realisation, he indirectly put the abiding Christian truth in the place of the transient Jewish dream—the truth, namely, of a community of children of God united by the spirit of serving love and of world-overcoming trust in God.
We may also perceive an advance in the education of the disciples, corresponding to the march of the experience of Jesus which undoubtedly brought about a ripening of his own knowledge. At the beginning, in the days of the Galilean spring, the manner of the teaching of Jesus moves in the idyllic tone of cheerful childlike trust in the heavenly Father, in Him who cares for the lilies and the birds, and on whom we may cast all our cares.
Then at the height of the Galilean ministry, the mystery of the kingdom—namely, that planted by the word in the hearts of men it grows gradually and quietly and constantly—is unveiled to the disciples in parables; and they are called blessed in that they were to experience that time of the dawning kingdom of God which had been longed for by the Fathers. But tasks of a new significant kind are also set up; they are to let their light shine before men, to preach from the house-tops before all the world what they have learned in quiet intercourse with their Master. And with the growing success among the multitude, who yet continued always to be wavering and unreliable, the distrust and contradiction of his opponents also increase: they complain about disregard of tradition, they accuse Jesus of being in alliance with Satan, they ask for miraculous signs from heaven — that is, for Messianic legitimation.
Thereupon Jesus warns his disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees; he puts before them the choice of either standing with him against the authorities of the synagogue or standing with them against him. Then he takes them on an excursion which extended beyond the Galilean boundaries in order to rivet them firmer and firmer to himself by undisturbed confidential intercourse; and on this journey he puts the question to them, Whom they held him to be? Was it that perhaps to himself the thought that he was destined by God to be the Messiah for this only could be the question at issue was still so new, so dark and uncertain, that he was terrified by the open utterance of the words as by the profanation of a mystery?
Or was it rather pedagogic wisdom and foresight that made him command the disciples to keep the dangerous word silent so long as they had not yet become aware of its true sense and pregnant meaning? However it be, at all events we see Jesus now taking a new important step in the education of the disciples: he shows them that upon the way of the Son of Man and of the coming kingdom of God sufferings and persecutions, shame and death, are inevitably to be expected, but that according to the divine decree these are only means for the final victory.
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