THERE have been noble-minded men, like Schiller and John Stuart Mill, who have been offended with one aspect of the teaching of Jesus. The charge is in substance that his teaching is sometimes mercenary,— that he does not ask men to do right because it is right, but because they shall be rewarded in a future state if they do, or punished if they do not. There are certainly passages which lend themselves to this interpretation. Jesus unquestionably believed in future rewards and punishments; and it is a mistake to imagine him a mild, modern humanitarian, without a sense of law or of the just deserts of men. But this is not saying that he appealed to the self-regarding motives when urging upon men moral conduct. It is one thing to recognize that wickedness will call down vengeance from heaven; it is another to seek to dissuade from wickedness solely or chiefly for fear of that vengeance.
I cannot consider the sayings of Jesus in detail, but a general key to their understanding seems to me to lie in the distinction between the prophet and the mere exhorter or preacher. Many Christian preachers have used the ideas of heaven and hell as motives to determine men in their conduct; and Christian morality, as commonly taught in the past, has been deeply tainted with the mercenary spirit. But Jesus was not primarily a preacher or exhorter; he makes few appeals to men. His frequent attitude is one all uncommon, if not well-nigh unintelligible to us of the Western world ; he stands for the Highest, and as a prophet declares the law of the Highest to men. Who does not at times crave a justification of the ways of the Eternal ? Who has not at times had his soul stirred within him as the course of things has seemed to favor, if not to be in league with, the unjust man and the oppressor, and to be coldly indifferent, if not hostile, to the good ? Who has not cried out for judgment, and asked : " Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? . . . Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man ! " A Hebrew psalmist once pictured the righteous man as a lamb, graciously tended and protected by the shepherd, Jahveh. No one can fail to see the beauty and the pathos of the picture; but how often is it true ? Yet we believe it ought to be true, — that the deep nature of things must somehow prefer the just to the unjust man, and that this preference ought to be made manifest. The prophet addresses himself to this problem, or rather brings an answer to it; and the answer which Jesus gave has written itself into the hearts of myriads of men, and has been the stay and consolation not only of actual sufferers, but of those harassed with doubt, — of those who but for it would have lost all intellectual satisfaction with life. A great change was impending in human affairs, he declared ; the power of evil and wrong would soon come to an end; the world would show itself on the side of the poor and the merciful and the pure in heart, and of those who love peace and thirst for justice. For these a new day would soon dawn ; the " kingdom of heaven " should greet them, and mercy and blessedness and the vision of the Highest should be theirs; while for the proud, the contentious, the self-willed, and the wicked there should be, as there ought to be, humiliation, shame, gnashing of teeth, and the fire that is not quenched. The "kingdom of heaven," so soon as Jesus thought to be ushered in, was his answer to the great problem; it was his justification of the ways of the Eternal to men; it was to be the end of the strange mazes and the solution of the riddle of human history.
Hence, when Jesus says, " There is no man that hath left house or brethren or sisters . . . for my sake and the gospel's sake, but he shall receive an hundred-fold now in this time, . . . and in the world to come life everlasting," I do not conceive that he is making an appeal to or even consoling men so much as declaring a law, uttering what to his mind, in the moral nature of things, must be, and what the apparent contradictions of experience put upon him a passionate necessity of declaring. At another time, when Jesus violently drove the money-changers out of the Temple, we are told that his disciples called to mind a saying out of the Psalms, "The zeal of thine house shall eat me up." If we in these secular days could realize the meaning of such a passion, — if we could enter into that " zeal for God " and for the vindication of a Divine order in the world which made, along with a kind of tender pity for the wronged and baffled, one of the leading motives of Jesus' life, — we should not find it so easy to call his morality mercenary, and should reserve our impatience and indignation for those who conceive no other uses for his words than as allurements or as threats to keep men in the way of righteousness.
An objection to another part of Jesus' moral teaching is that it is extravagant and impracticable. " How can we," it is said, " resist not evil, turn the other cheek, give away our cloak to one who takes our coat, and freely lend to every one ? Are not law and economy equally opposed to such precepts ? How long would orderly society endure if they were obeyed ? Is it not the teaching of the new charity that we are not to give and not to lend save on some kind of business principle ?" I think a measure of confusion is betrayed in questions of this sort. Jesus does not, if I understand aright, condemn resistance for self-defence, but has in mind the old precepts of "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," and the spirit of retaliation which was at their basis. For self-defence, we may use violence to protect our person or our property or our rights. For self-defence, one nation may rise against another, or one class against another. If Jesus would have condemned such self-defence, it was in connection with a view of Providence which we of to-day can no longer share. Retaliation, however, is an entirely different matter. I know of no rule of equity according to which we may return blow for blow or oppression for oppression. This would not be righting a wrong, but making a double wrong. Better than this would be actually turning the other cheek and going the second mile.