I turn now to some features of the ethics of Jesus having such clear and positive merit that little objection is likely to be made to them. I essay no comparison of him with Socrates or Sakya-mouni or Confucius. This is a difficult and delicate task, which should not be undertaken without an equipment of historical knowledge and sympathy and imagination, which few of those who so often and so lightly make the attempt seem to me to have. I do not deny, indeed, that there may be no one idea in Jesus' teaching that is not found in the teaching of others as well; but I have rather in mind the prophet of Nazareth in connection with the times in which he lived, and the actual influence he has had upon men living in our "Western world. It cannot be claimed that we stand in any such relation to Socrates or the Hindu prince or Confucius, as to Jesus. Socrates has not been without influence upon us, but it cannot be soberly called a tithe of that which Jesus has had. Would that men read the "Apology" oftener, they would find meat and drink in it, a tonic and an inspiration for their lives ! But there is need for no such wish in relation to the Gospels. Jesus is an ideal of goodness, all too indistinct often, but hovering in the thought of well-nigh every one of us. It is true that there is much uncertainty relating not only to his life, but to his teaching ; yet as there need be no doubt as to the main tenor and events of his life, so there need be none as to the commanding features of his teaching. They make too largely consistent a whole, and bespeak a mind of too much freshness and originality and power, to allow us to think of them as coming in an indefinite way from an age otherwise so traditional, so barren, and so prosaic.
First, we notice that he opposes the traditional morality of his time. And in this relation, what other function, we may ask, is there for the prophet than to purify and enlarge the moral ideal of men, to strip righteousness of conventional expressions and reveal its absolute and all-encompassing nature? To acquiesce in the moral requirements ordinarily allowed, to proclaim merely the old Mosaic law, so called, and insist upon all the particularities of its observance, what need for Jesus to do that ? All this was being done by the existing teachers of the nation, and especially the Pharisees. The Pharisees were, no doubt, eminent patriots, conservers of the national religious life and its ancient traditions, and stood, as some one has remarked, to orthodox Judaism much as the Jesuits do to the Catholic Church in its conflict with liberal ideas. They had on their side, too, the majority of the lawyers of the nation, a class naturally inclined to conservatism, and whose function is somewhat obscured to us by the title Scribe, which is usually given them in the New Testament. As the Pharisees with this legal following had a cause and an enthusiasm for it, they were more influential and held in higher honor by the mass of the people than the party of the Sad-ducees, who, with their inclination to liberalism, and their varnish of foreign ideas and manners, had lost a measure of both religious and patriotic zeal. But it was the mistake of the Pharisees to esteem as final the moral code contained in their Scriptures. Christians affect to find this very strange in view of the added legislation of Jesus ; but that it is not strange is shown by the very fact that they regard Christian morality as final and incapable of being superseded. It is, in fact, the part of a conservative temper the world over to believe that things materially better than the old cannot come. This is just as true now as at any time. I find Liberals, even, who look with a kind of disapproval, if not disbelief, upon any departure from and advance upon their present religious attitude. That which we know and are accustomed to the old wine we all naturally think is best. But Jesus did add to the old legislation; he was, in fact, a second " Moses " to those who accepted him. We will not attempt to say how far his legislation was new, and to what extent there were anticipations of it in the old Law and Prophets. It is interesting to note that almost always, when advances are made in the world, either intellectual or moral advances, we are all ready to accredit them, after they are accomplished, to the authorities whom we revere, though when they were making, the authorities spoke to us with no such clear voice, and our uncertainty may have practically amounted to hostility. So, in the future, it is possible that no reforms will ever be accomplished for the human race that clever Christians will not claim, after they are accomplished, to have been the natural expression of their own principles ; yet now it can hardly be said that their Master speaks to them in such a way as to make them feel that they must themselves accomplish the reforms.