In sober truth, I believe that all this is but the as-sertion of the brute instincts in us, seeking indeed to give a specious justification to themselves, taking on the airs of science and human reasoning, but nowise the utterance of what is strictly human in us. The human is developed in us according as we act from other motives than those of self-assertion, as we remember the ties that bind us to one another, and seek only that good for ourselves which is consistent with the good of all. It is the thought of humanity that makes us human ; it is the bond linking us to and making us a part of humanity — a bond which is no natural force compelling us, but a fact in the ideal nature of things, and constraining us only with an ideal constraint — that makes our very dignity and glory. Human brotherhood, as Jesus taught it, is an idea which, if it took possession of human hearts, would not allow some of the features of our present political and social institutions to last a day. We act for the most part from the lower motives, with slight modifications and a slight tempering of the conduct owing to the influence of ideas from above. Religion demands that the ideas have an absolute, an all-controlling supremacy. In the " kingdom of heaven," of which Jesus spoke, this demand was to be realized. None should be members of it save those in whom love was the absolute principle ; and this should be proved by their having owned the claims of the lowest of their brothers, — those who, in the bitterness of fate or in return for their own sin, had come to nakedness or famishing or the disgrace of prison walls.
There is this element of truth in Jesus' view, that the " kingdom " is to come from above, and not in the natural course of things ; namely, that it is not to come, and cannot, from the onworking of man's natural self-regarding impulses. It is the dogma of a certain school of Liberal philosophers that if men " are left free to act in accordance with their obvious interests and their natural dispositions, their conduct will tend to the benefit of the whole of mankind." There is, to my mind, a grain of truth and a mass of error in such a dogma. The Middle Age was a time when the natural differences between men had comparatively free play, when law and government meant little but what those strong enough chose to make them. Did the differences happily supplement one another, and the conduct of the strong and capable " tend to the benefit of the whole of mankind " ? Instead of this, history discloses to us the strong, — few in numbers, yet almost wanton in pride and power; princes, ecclesiastical as well as secular, — "benefiting" men by making them their vassals and slaves ; and a part of the significance of the rise of the absolute monarchy in the fifteenth century consisted in putting checks upon the unrestricted freedom of the strong, in preventing them in many an instance from following their "obvious interests and natural dispositions," — in a word, in diminishing the inequalities which in a pure state of nature and freedom are always bound to show themselves. And ill will it fare with any republic when its boasted freedom comes to mean simply the freedom of one class of its citizens to appropriate to itself the services of the remainder. The future will join with the past, in my opinion, in showing it to be but a pleasing dream that the selfishness of one man shall so neatly adjust itself to the selfishness of another that they will perforce live together as brothers. Brotherhood means no such contrivance ; it is a thing of the heart, and must come from the heart. It must crown our selfish impulses ; it can never spring from them. It will descend, if ever it does descend upon the earth, out of an ideal region, and rule us, if it does rule us, by the spell and might of its ideal beauty and its ideal right.
Hence, the significance of that primary aim which Jesus would set to human life, — namely, to seek the " kingdom of God." How little of reality have those words to us now ! — I mean, not merely to Liberals, but, comparatively speaking, to the whole modern Christian world. How we seek to turn the kingdom into a metaphor, or to substitute for it all manner of abstractions ! Or if we still hold to its concrete substance, how we put the divine city and fellowship afar off in the clouds and to the end of time, inwardly saying that it is well enough there, but cannot be seriously thought of as giving the ideal and the rule for this present life ! Accordingly, the present enthusiasms of men, so far as they have any, seem so measured and finite ; they do not lift us to any height, nor do they touch our depths. Ah ! to have lived — who does not at times wish it ? — when the measureless good of the "kingdom of God" seemed waiting for men to enter into it; when human life was lit up with the transcendent hope; when heaven seemed about to descend and touch and sanctify the earth ! There is no wonder that the multitude of those early believers were of one heart and soul; that not one of them said that aught of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things common. As they were not playing with words, but believed in the " kingdom of God," how could they forbear to live in some measure then, in their earthly lives, as they believed they should live thereafter ?
The phrase "kingdom of God" is perhaps outworn for those who would not, under a cloak and venerable remnant of piety, hide the light that is in them ; but the thought which lies at its. basis is of perennial interest and worth. Of what is untrue and harmful in the Christian conception of it, I may speak later. The truth underlying it may be stated in a few words:
It is that man belongs vitally to another order of things than that of which he has experience. He can see what is, and at the same time form a conception of what ought to be ; and in that conception he finds the goal of what is and the end to which his thoughts and energies rightfully turn. And as he forms this conception in virtue of the rationality that is in him, all rational beings can form it, and, as matter of fact, with varying clearness do form it; and the goal is thence a goal for all rational beings. Moreover, the goal is of nothing that is absolutely apart from those who contemplate it, far beyond and above them as it is; it is a goal for rational beings, and is nothing more nor less than that of a perfect society or community of them. Anciently designated a kingdom, we now may more naturally call it a republic, if we are not thereby made to forget that the laws of it, though in one sense of our own making, are in another sense set for us in the ideal nature of things as unalterably as the goal itself. For us, is really only the creation of ourselves after the ideal pattern. But better still, perhaps, we may call it a brotherhood, since thereby the idea of association, of a common interest, a common life, a common joy, are most effectually and most touchingly suggested to us. There is a yearning in our human nature for brotherhood. We are no more satisfied with the modern aim of self-culture than with the older one of the salvation of our individual souls. We want in our deeper moments to rise above the self, the individual, and feel that we are parts of some grander whole, some nobler society, and that we have in it a more than private mission and work. The very good and happiness we crave we do not wish to win for ourselves, but to have come in consequence of our world-connections, to be a kind of bounty and answering benediction from the whole. This only is religion, when the law for me is the law for all; when the good for me is the good of all; when the tides and the gladness of universal being sweep through me, and I know it is no longer this poor finite self that lives, but the world-self that lives in me, and the world-purpose that leads me on.
And so truly do I believe the " kingdom of God" in its essential meaning to be the central theme of religion, that I regard some fresh apprehension of it, some feeling of its truth so real and deep that all uncertain and merely traditional language shall be avoided in publishing it, and some clear, simple, unambiguous statements of its practical meaning in connection with to-day's habits of thought and life, to be the indispensable preparation for a Religion for the Future. And in this sense we are still on the foundation of the prophets, Jesus himself being the corner-stone.