Nor do the new rules of charity now happily making their way in our midst contradict the precepts of Jesus. A business charity, in one sense of the word, would not be charity at all. To give help to no one asking for it, because of a rudely conceived principle that every one ought to help himself, would not be to make an advance upon Christian practice, but to go back to the hardness of heathenism. It must not be because we love less or are ready to do less that we give up the old habit of almsgiving, but because we love more, because we wish to institute more radical means of relief, and thereby not merely temporarily relieve distress, but do something toward checking it at its sources. If there is merely the economical or the business spirit in the new charity, if the aim is chiefly to rid ourselves of annoyances and banish unsightly objects from the public gaze, depend upon it, no great results will come from it, no such results as came from that mighty movement of pity and tenderness which streamed from the heart of Jesus, and took the weak and unprotected under its special care, which established beneficent institutions,1 and made the relief of want or suffering one of the primary virtues. No ; only a new birth of love, a new enthusiasm for humanity, will effect any radical revolution in human conditions ; only a new wave of such tender feeling as was in Jesus himself, though it be in connection with our view of the world and not with his, and guided in its manner of expression by all the light that past experience and scientific observation and experiment can give us. The best machinery will after a time lie idle, if there is not the force of human love to propel it.
1 The first general Council of the Church (at Nicaea, 325 a. d.) ordered the erection of a hospital in every city.
Nothing not all knowledge or skill. will take its place.
Jesus told the rich young man to go and sell all that he had and give to the poor. Let us very carefully discriminate, if we object to that saying. I might almost say it is at our peril if we do so; for the very breath of it is the utterness of consecration it enjoins. According to it, there is nothing which is to be cherished as privately our own: what we have and all of it is for common blessing. I have a deeper faith in man than those economists and sophisters (and there are some "ministers of religion" among them) who think it necessary, in explaining this precept, to strip its exactions of their grandeur, and trim and adjust them to the levels of conventional benevolence. I believe man at his deepest does not want to be left where he is, but to be lifted higher. I believe that he can give unselfishly, can give all he has, his possessions, yes, not hesitating at his life, when some cause makes transcendent claims upon him. Prudence is indeed called for; but there are two kinds of prudence, the one springing from selfishness, the other born of religion itself. The same outward acts may have meanings at a heaven-wide distance from each other. Suppose, for example, that I refuse alms to a beggar on the street. I may do so because, having hardened myself into the idea that every man is himself entirely responsible for his condition, I feel no promptings of pity in my breast; on the other hand, I may refuse for very pity and bewilderment, knowing how little such help would be, how much greater are his needs than those I could thus cover, and with the thought either to go with him to his home and learn well of his misfortunes, or to send some one wiser and better qualified than I to do this for me. This would be a totally different prudence, and would be nowise contradictory to the precept of Jesus himself: "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away." The indiscriminate and unthinking giving of alms, which has been too characteristic of the Christian Church, we may indeed censure, doubtless, it has done and still is doing much harm ; but it must be because there is rising within us a deeper and more serious spirit of humanity than the Church has ordinarily exhibited in the past.
Another objection to the moral teaching of Jesus I shall pass over lightly ; it is astonishing that an earnest radical thinker should ever make it. It is that Jesus slights the family relations. That he held sacred the idea of the family and of the marriage bond, which is at its basis, is shown by words so severe and exalted that few of his followers nowadays are able to bear them, I mean those which declare marriage indissoluble save for the single cause of adultery. Only the Catholic Church, which along with whatever additions and Aberglaube seems yet most faithfully to have preserved the primitive Christian traditions, insists upon obedience to these words. But it is at a practical slighting of family ties that the objection is aimed. It is true that Jesus called upon men to leave brothers and sisters and parents, and follow him. He would not even suffer a disciple to go and bury his father, rather rudely, as it may seem, saying, "Let the dead bury their dead." He said, not peace, but a sword, was he introducing into the world : he was come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and to cause a man's foes to be those of his own household. And when his own mother and brothers wished to see him, we are told that with no very decided show of affection he pointed to his disciples, and said, " These are my mother and my brethren".
Now, if morality has no other intent than to preserve mankind in families as the families may happen to be constituted at any one time, then is Jesus plainly at fault. But can this be admitted ? Is all possible good already realized and incorporated in social institutions? Is there no justice, and no call for its execution, as wide as the human race, and immeasurably in advance of that which our present laws and social habits reflect ? In truth, those who object to the divisions in family life which necessarily followed in the wake of Christianity, deny the logic by which all great forward movements in history are made : they go over into the ranks of the conservatives. Any principle thrown into the ferment of human thoughts and aspirations is a principle of division ; those who assent to it are parted from those who do not. If it be indeed a sovereign principle, like that of justice, then no lower allegiances have a right to interfere with the supreme allegiance due to it. Man must choose the highest; he has no peace or honor in his own eyes save as he does. And consistently with this choice all his other relations in life must be ordered; they dare never assert that it shall be modified and accommodated so as to harmonize with them.
Jesus did. set a man at variance against his father. He was stern and exacting in his demand of absolute allegiance to the cause he represented; he did feel a closer tie of kinship to those who heard his call and obeyed it than to any earthly mother or brothers; and no cause has ever thrived in the world that has not in a measure repeated these facts. No religion of the future will be a worthy successor of the religion of the past that does not introduce a similar division, that does not have a similar attitude of exaction to all wavering and double-minded persons, and does not introduce a bond of union over and above, if not sometimes in contradiction to, the traditional bonds that now hold men together. The pathway of that future religion, of which we know so little and yet believe so much, is strewed with flowers to many a prophetic young heart of the present. I have no idea that it will be so. I have no idea that there will be any less call for self-denial, for stern faithfulness, for courage, yes, for daring for the right, than there has been in the past. Humanity has not gone one-tenth or one-hundredth part of its journey. We compare ourselves with the past, with pre-Christian or with mediaeval times: it is for us rather to compare ourselves with the idea of the perfect, to feel how great, how well-nigh measureless is the distance yet to be travelled over. The goal is still far aloft, and the way to it is no easy one, but steep and winding, and perchance has many a danger lurking by its side. Are we ready for new toil, for more heroic aims, for severer duty, or will we take our ease on the spot we have already reached, this is the question, answers to which will reveal whether or not we are children of the coming time.