Never Man Planned Like This Man
What are we to say of the means which Jesus proposes to use for the accomplishment of his vast and unheard-of ends?
I say broadly, and with certain assurance, Jesus proposes none of the means which mere men would use; of the sort they have always used. His plans and methods are utterly unlike the plans and methods of men, except as they have learned most imperfectly from him in humble and earnest efforts to do his will. The methods that mere men trust inalways trust inhe will have none of.
Jesus utterly excludes mere force. His symbol is not a sword; it is a cross. He said, "He that taketh the sword shall perish by the sword."
Some weak thinkers or insincere men have tried to fasten on Christianity the guilt of barbarous cruelties, and many wicked and horrible deeds, perpetrated by ignorant or wicked men in the holy name of Christ. Bad men, in the darkness of ignorance and in the malignity of sin, have used his name to force their brothers to think their thoughts. The rack for Galileo was an evil thought and a wicked method of bad and ignorant men. But Jesus does not tolerate force in carrying on his work, nor persecution of any sort whatsoever.
On one occasion two of his disciples, John and James, were offended because a Samaritan village did not offer hospitality to Jesus and his friends. Then said the brothers, "Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" They were men, and their method was pure human. What Jesus said to them he says to all: "But he turned and rebuked them, and said, Ye know now what manner of spirit ye are of."
To charge upon Christianity the wicked deeds of those who have violated the teachings of its founder is like charging upon medicine the death of men who, in the name of medicine, have been doctored to their death by impostors.
Force could not do any of his work; it was man's love that he sought; and love cannot be forced by God or man. Love dies under force. The Caesars use force; it is a man's way. The God-man uses love.
Jesus does not trust in the purchasing power of wealth, or of money, its representative. He hardly spoke of money except to show the danger of it. The love of money he denounced. He taught that greed of money is debasing. Getting to heaven, for a rich man, is like a camel's passing through the eye of a needleonly "harder." The only rich man who volunteered discipleship turned sorrowfully away when told to sell his estates and give the proceeds to the poor. Jesus warns his disciples with gracious vehemence of the folly and danger of laying up treasure upon earth. Personally he had no concern about wealth, except to warn his disciples of the terrible spiritual dangers that lurk in riches. He provides no treasure for carrying on his work. He taught that the love of money is the source of more moral evils than any other thing in the world.
It is a man's way to bribe and buy favor and success. Satan believes in the power of money absolutely. To Jesus himself the devil offered the submission of the world if he would only pay him allegiance.
Men of our time will not believe what Jesus says upon these subjects, and their prompt rejection of his doctrine is evidence enough that in rejecting from his plans the power of money to buy influence he did not plan like a man. For money, as money, Jesus felt only contempt. He taught that wealth held for its own sake, or used only in selfishness, shows its possessor to be a "fool;" that it both degrades and damns. In his view it can in one way only be even honorable to be richto use riches unselfishly and usefully. Even then it is dangerous.
In his day, as they do now, men of the world reviled his doctrine; "the Pharisees, who were covetous, derided him."
For the teachings of Jesus concerning money and its right uses few, even of those who claim to be his disciples and friends, have perfect respect. He seems to them to be "visionary" in his views, and his words seem to be "unbusinesslike." A man says to himself, "Jesus says money is dangerous to my soul; he tells me that I am only a steward holding money in trust, and that I must give it away to those who need. I cannot carry on business on his plan; I will risk my plan."
Such a man does not believe what Jesus teaches; unless one should so far qualify the statement as to sayunless it be that gold has so blinded his eyes that he does not understand what the plain words of the Master really mean.
From his method Jesus excludes diplomacy, the art of playing one selfishness against another. "Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." His disciples must, indeed, be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves;" but they must live the truth. Deception is abhorrent to him. The Talleyrands understand and use diplomatic arts. The "Berlin Conference" is a modern instance; it illustrates a man's method. Not necessarily a bad method, but a man's.
Consider a phrase we see every day in the papers, "The balance of power in Europe." See how the "great powers" and the small ones give themselves to all manner of intrigues, using wily state-craft to circumvent, deceive, coerce, hold their own, or rob their weaker neighbors, or by combination reduce the stronger ones.
Many well-founded complaints have been brought against "priest-craft," which is state craft in church circles. Its crimes, by the ill-informed and the evil-disposed, have been laid at the door of Christianity. No charge can be more unjust; it is as unjust as to blame Jesus with the treachery of Judas.
Priest-craft is an invention of men; it has no more place in the plans of Jesus than state-craft; he considers neither, except as he may overrule them and force them against their nature into his service, so that the cunning as well as the "wrath of man shall praise him."
What is called the "Church" is not synonymous with "kingdom of heaven." Men of worldly temper may within church circles do their own work; they do not do Christ's work by diplomatic arts.
Jesus not only excludes appeal to all forms of selfishness, he antagonizes them to the death. His first and last word, his ultimatum, is, "If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me." His first word is a challenge to surrender the stronghold of self-will. Till surrender is complete there can be no peace. A mere man would be counted insaneand justly enoughto talk of advancing any little scheme of improving things about him in any such wayand because it is so utterly unlike a man's way.
Jesus offers no inducement to mere self-interest. He promises absolutely nothing of the things the world is in sore travail and anxiety to secure. He does not promise pleasure, or honor, or fortune, or power, or health, or long life. He does say God will see to it that true Christians shall have what is good for them. But in many ways he makes plain that "what is good for them" will often include what the world calls evil.
Jesus nowhere so much as seems to think of what men of the world call good; the things they strive for so, and give their time and strength and lives to gain.
It is an utter mistake to suppose that Jesus offers worldly prosperity as a reward for duty, a premium on piety. Those who try to read this meaning into an apostle's writings misread him; it is against all his teaching. It is true, doubtless, as Paul says, "Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come." But "the promise of the life that now is" cannot, in the kingdom of Jesus, mean worldly things; it means goodness, God's peace in man's soul, Christlikeness in man's heart here and now. Undoubtedly religion makes this a better world, but not because it makes man richer, but purer.
If we believe in Jesus and in his work in the world at all we may, if we wish, find out what he meant by what has followed. It is true that the religion that makes men good restrains them and protects them from the follies and sins that waste energy and squander fortune; but it is utterly misleading and confusing to try to read into the words of Jesus the idea that he appeals to any mere selfish interest by promising fortune to the good. It is like making worldly riches the reward of meekness and long life the premium on obedience to parents.
Some very rich people have been deeply religious, but in spite of their wealth. It is as Jesus said, "All things are possible with God." It was he also who said, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God." But Christ's best ones have not succeeded in this world according to money or other such gauges.
If the work of Jesuswho excludes from his plans force and the cunning of diplomacy, who denounces all selfishness and ignores all self-interest, who demands absolute self-surrender at the very outsetis to abide in the world, is to succeed, then it must go against the tide, and not with it.
At one time Jesus seemed to think his hearers might possibly misapprehend him, and he told them plainly that poverty, trouble, sorrow, persecutions in this world, awaited them if they followed him. And he told them plainly, also, that if they would have any part in him and with him they must flinch at nothingthat they must die if need be. When they did understand him "many went back from following him." And many are joining their company to this day.
What he said to the young ruler he said to all; nay, says to us all today: "The foxes have holes; and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." And we do him the deep dishonor of believing that he spoke the words of mere sentiment! He could only mean by his words to the rich young man, "Come with me and welcome; I will help you, I will save you; but for this world I can promise you nothing." He himself was always a poor man, and his poverty was not an accident in his manner of life. There never was a man too poor to be a friend to Jesus, never a man so rich that he could find special favor in those eyes that were "single" and "full of light."
Jesus could not have offered holiness to men as the chief good of man, with worldly blessings as a reason for being good; it would have spoiled the Gospel. He never promised that his disciples should be better off in this world than he was. He asked them one day, "Shall the servant be above his lord, the disciple above his Master?"
But we explain all this away.
Jesus was not indulging sentiment when he taught his disciples that following him meant a self-renunciation that would brave all things. He distinctly told them to expect persecutions and tribulations. And some persuade themselves that he was speaking only for those who were then his disciples; that such ideas do not fit civilized times and countries. An apostle, being a mere man, might well enough give his "judgment" as to what best suited an existing condition of life and society; but Jesus, who belongs to all times, speaks no word of simply local and temporary significance and importance.
It was so certain that suffering and persecution of some sort would follow fidelity that Jesus gave his disciples and all who should come after them a test by which they might judge of their personal fidelity to him: "Woe unto you when all man shall speak well of you." Can we imagine that Jesus did not mean such words for all men, of all times and countries?
He knew how his friends would need to stand firm, and how fearful the pressure of temptation would be to deny him.
He told them they would "for his sake" be "brought before kings," and that "some of them would be killed." But he told them not to be afraid; they were to fear God and no other whatever.
One day Jesus was urging his disciples to be faithful and courageous in proclaiming his whole truth to the world, and thus he encouraged and exhorted them: "And I say unto you, my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath filled hath power to cast into hell: yea, I say unto you, Fear him."
Instead of trusting in any wise to self-interest Jesus demands its crucifixion. When he says, "If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me;" when he demands self-renunciation absolute; when he says that no interest possible in this worldwhether houses, lands, father, mother, brother, sister, child, or wifemust come between him and his disciples; when he raises a cross by his own upon which selfishness must die, he stands apart from all men. His method is not a man's. His plans are as different from a man's as the end he proposed is above a man's thought and different from it.
If no man ever spoke like Jesus no man ever planned like him.
In considering further some things in the methods which Jesus adopted for doing the work he proposed to himself we may mention, as different from a man's method, that Jesus excludes from his plans for discipling the world reliance upon mere argument and force on intellect.
Jesus left no room, not the least, for the fanatical superstition that his cause is to be advanced by ignorance. His doctrine furnishes every inspiration for the very highest development of mind; and the best educational work of the world is the outgrowth of Christian institutions.
But Jesus does teach his disciples that they must not, in extending his kingdom, depend upon learning, upon mere force of intellect and argument. If they did this they would fail. So he taught them, and history makes it plain to us that his disciples have failed when they have forgotten his teachings. Alas! that is so easy to pervert great gifts. It seems to be almost as difficult not to trust in great gift of genius as it is to possess great wealth without loving it.
With the end Jesus had in view he could not depend upon mere learning, mental gifts, and force of argument. For the essential trouble is not with men's intellects, but their hearts. It is not that opinions are so wrong; it is that dispositions are so alienated from God. Man needs not a new opinion, but a new love. The task of Jesus was a far harder one than the correction of errors; it was the winning of hearts. Love, is free; men may be convinced against their will, but love consents.
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