The following chapters are the outcome of an attempt to set before a
large Sunday evening congregation--composed for the most part of working
men and women--the teaching of our Lord on certain great selected
themes. The reader will know, therefore, what to look for in these
pages. If he be a trained Biblical scholar he need go no further, for he
will find nothing here with which he is not already thoroughly familiar.
On the other hand, the book will not be wholly without value even to
some of my brother-ministers if it serve to convince them that a man may
preach freely on the greatest themes of the gospel, and yet be sure that
the common people will hear him gladly, if only he will state his
message at once seriously and simply, and with the glow that comes of
personal conviction. Indeed, one may well doubt if there is any other
kind of preaching that they really care for.
Luke xxiv. 19. "A prophet mighty in word before God and all
John iii. 2. "A teacher come from God."
John xvii. 11. "Holy Father."
Matthew xvi. 15. "Who say ye that I am?"
CONCERNING HIS OWN DEATH
Mark x. 45. "The Son of Man came ... to give His life a
ransom for many."
CONCERNING THE HOLY SPIRIT
John xiv. 16. "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you
another Comforter, that He may be with you for ever, even the
Spirit of truth."
John xvi. 7. "It is expedient for you that I go away: for if
I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I
go away, I will send Him unto you."
CONCERNING THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Matthew vi. 10. "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in
heaven, so on earth."
Luke xv. 10. "There is joy in the presence of the angels of
God over one sinner that repenteth."
Luke xi. 2, 4. "When ye pray, say,... Forgive us our sins."
Matthew vi. 33. "Seek ye first ... His righteousness."
Matthew vii. 9-11. "What man is there of you, who, if his son
shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone; or if he
shall ask for a fish, will give him a serpent? If ye then,
being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children,
how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good
things to them that ask Him?"
CONCERNING THE FORGIVENESS OF INJURIES
Matthew xviii. 21, 22. "Then came Peter, and said to Him,
Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive
him? until seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto
thee, until seven times; but, until seventy times seven."
Matthew vi. 25, 31, 34. "Be not anxious for your life ... nor
yet for your body. ... Be not anxious, saying, What shall we
eat? or, What shall we drink? ... Be not anxious for the
Luke xviii. 24, 25. "How hardly shall they that have riches
enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to
enter in through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter
into the kingdom of God."
CONCERNING THE SECOND ADVENT
Matthew xxiv. 30, 36. "They shall see the Son of Man coming
on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.... Of that
day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven,
neither the Son, but the Father only."
CONCERNING THE JUDGMENT
Matthew xxv. 31-33. "When the Son of Man shall come in His
glory, and all the angels with Him, then shall He sit on the
throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all the
nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as the
shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats: and He shall set
the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left."
CONCERNING THE FUTURE LIFE
Matthew vi. 20. "Where neither moth nor rust doth consume,
and where thieves do not break through nor steal."
Mark ix. 48. "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not
"O Lord and Master of us all!
Whate'er our name or sign,
We own Thy sway, we hear Thy call,
We test our lives by Thine.
We faintly hear, we dimly see,
In differing phrase we pray;
But, dim or clear, we own in Thee
The Light, the Truth, the Way."
"A prophet mighty in word before God and all the people."--LUKE xxiv.
"A teacher come from God."--JOHN iii. 2.
In speaking of the teaching of Jesus it is scarcely possible at the
present day to avoid at least a reference to two other closely-related
topics, viz. the relation of Christ's teaching to the rest of the New
Testament, and the trustworthiness of the Gospels in which that teaching
is recorded. Adequate discussion of either of these questions here and
now is not possible; it must suffice to indicate very briefly the
direction in which, as it appears to the writer, the truth may be found.
First, then, as to the relation of the teaching of Jesus to the rest of
the New Testament, and especially to the Epistles of St. Paul. There can
be no doubt, largely, I suppose, through the influence of the Reformers,
that the words of Jesus have not always received the attention that has
been given to the writings of Paul. Nor is this apparent misplacing of
the accent the wholly unreasonable thing which at first sight it may
seem. After all, the most important thing in the New Testament--that
which saves--is not anything that Jesus said, but what He did; not His
teaching, but His death. This, the Gospels themselves being witness, is
the culmination and crown of Revelation; and it is this which, in the
Epistles, and pre-eminently the Epistles of Paul, fills so large a
place. Moreover, it ought plainly to be said that the Church has never
been guilty of ignoring the words of her Lord in the wholesale fashion
suggested by some popular religious writers of our day. Really, the
Gospels are not a discovery of yesterday, nor even of the day before
yesterday. They have been in the hands of the Church from the beginning,
and, though she has not always valued them according to their true and
priceless worth, she has never failed to number them with the choicest
jewels in the casket of Holy Scripture. Nevertheless, it may be freely
granted that the teaching of Jesus has not always received its due at
the Church's hands. "Theology," one orthodox and Evangelical divine
justly complains, "has done no sort of justice to the Ethics of
Jesus." But in our endeavour to rectify one error on the one side,
let us see to it that we do not stumble into another and worse on the
other side. The doctrines of Paul are not so much theological baggage,
of which the Church would do well straightway to disencumber itself.
After all that the young science of Biblical Theology has done to reveal
the manifold variety of New Testament doctrine, the book still remains a
unity; and the attempt to play off one part of it against another--the
Gospels against the Epistles, or the Epistles against the Gospels--is to
be sternly resented and resisted. To St. Paul himself any such rivalry
would have been impossible, and, indeed, unthinkable. There was no claim
which he made with more passionate vehemence than that the message which
he delivered was not his, but Christ's. "As touching the gospel which
was preached by me," he says, "neither did I receive it from man, nor
was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ."
The Spirit who spoke through him and his brother apostles was not an
alien spirit, but the Spirit of Christ, given according to the promise
of Christ, to make known the things of Christ; so that there is a very
true sense in which their words may be called "the final testimony of
Jesus to Himself." "We have the mind of Christ," Paul said, and both in
the Epistles and the Gospels we may seek and find the teaching of
It is, however, with the teaching of Jesus as it is recorded in the
Gospels that, in these chapters, we are mainly concerned. We come,
therefore to our second question: Can we trust the Four Gospels? And
this question must be answered in even fewer words than were given to
the last. As to the external evidence, let us hear the judgment of the
great German scholar, Harnack. Harnack is a critic who is ready to give
to the winds with both hands many things which are dear to us as life
itself; yet this is how he writes in one of his most recent works:
"Sixty years ago David Friedrich Strauss thought that he had almost
entirely destroyed the historical credibility, not only of the fourth,
but also of the first three Gospels as well. The historical criticism of
two generations has succeeded in restoring that credibility in its main
outlines." When, from the external, we turn to the internal evidence,
we are on incontestable ground. The words of Jesus need no credentials,
they carry their own credentials; they authenticate themselves.
Christian men and women reading, e.g., the fourteenth of St. John's
Gospel say within themselves that if these are not the words of Jesus, a
greater than Jesus is here; and they are right. The oft-quoted challenge
of John Stuart Mill is as unanswerable to-day as ever it was. "It is of
no use to say," he declares, "that Christ, as exhibited in the Gospels,
is not historical, and that we know not how much of what is admirable
has been super-added by the traditions of His followers.... Who among
His disciples, or among their proselytes, was capable of inventing the
sayings ascribed to Jesus, or of imagining the life and character
revealed in the Gospels?"
Assuming, therefore, without further discussion, the essential
trustworthiness of the Gospel records, let us pass on to consider in
this introductory chapter some general characteristics of Christ's
teaching as a whole.
Mark at the outset Christ's own estimate of His words: "The words that I
have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life;" "If a man keep My word
he shall never see death;" "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My
words shall not pass away;" "Every one which heareth these words of Mine
and doeth them "--with him Christ said it should be well; but "every one
that heareth these words of Mine and doeth them not"--upon him ruin
should come to the uttermost. Sayings like these are very remarkable,
for this is not the way in which human teachers are wont to speak of
their own words; or, if they do so speak, this wise world of ours knows
better than to take them at their own valuation. But the astonishing
fact in the case of Jesus is that the world has admitted His claim. Men
who refuse utterly to share our faith concerning Him and the
significance of His life and death, readily give to Him a place apart
among the great teachers of mankind. I have already quoted the judgment
of John Stuart Mill. "Jesus," says Matthew Arnold, "as He appears in the
Gospels ... is in the jargon of modern philosophy an absolute"--we
cannot get beyond Him. Such, likewise, is the verdict of Goethe: "Let
intellectual and spiritual culture progress, and the human mind expand,
as much as it will; beyond the grandeur and the moral elevation of
Christianity, as it sparkles and shines in the Gospels, the human mind
will not advance." It would be easy to multiply testimonies, but it
is needless, since practically all whose judgment is of any account are
of one mind.
But now if, with these facts in our minds, and knowing nothing else
about the teaching of Jesus, we could suppose ourselves turning for the
first time to the simple record of the Gospels, probably our first
feeling would be one of surprise that Jesus the Teacher had won for
Himself such an ascendency over the minds and hearts of men. For
consider some of the facts which the Gospels reveal to us. To begin
with, this Teacher, unlike most other teachers who have influenced
mankind, contented Himself from first to last with merely oral
instruction: He left no book; He never wrote, save in the dust of the
ground. Not only so, but the words of Jesus that have been preserved by
the evangelists are, comparatively speaking, extremely few. Put them all
together, they are less by one-half or two-thirds than the words which
it will be necessary for me to use in order to set forth His teaching in
this little book. And further, the little we have is, for the most part,
so casual, so unpremeditated, so unsystematic in its character. Once and
again, it is true, we get from the Evangelists something approaching
what may be called a set discourse; but more often what they give us is
reports of conversations--conversations with His disciples, with chance
acquaintances, or with His enemies. Sometimes we find Him speaking in
the synagogues; but He is quite as ready to teach reclining at the
dinner-table; and, best of all, He loved to speak in the open air, by
the wayside, or the lake shore. Once, as He stood by the lake of
Gennesaret, the multitude was so great that it pressed upon Him. Near at
hand were two little fishing-boats drawn up upon the beach, for the
fishermen had gone out of them, and were washing their nets. "And He
entered into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put
out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes
out of the boat." It is all so different from what we should have
expected; there is about it such an air of artless, homely simplicity.
Finally, we cannot forget that Jesus was a Jew speaking to Jews. Son of
God though He was, He was the son of a Jewish mother, trained in a
Jewish home, in all things the child of His own time and race. Whatever
else His message may have been, it was, first of all, a message to the
men of His own day; therefore, of necessity, it was their language He
used, it was to their needs He ministered, it was their sins He
condemned. The mould, the tone, the colouring of His teaching were all
largely determined by the life of His country and His time.
Yet this is He concerning whom all ages cry aloud, "Never man spake like
this man." This is He before whom the greatest and the wisest bow down,
saying, "Lord" and "Master." How are we to explain it? Much of the
explanation lies outside of the scope of our present subject; but if we
will turn back to the Gospels again we may find at least a partial
answer to our question.
(I) I said just now that Christ's teaching was addressed in the first
place to the Jews of His own day. Yet the note of universality is as
unmistakable as are the local tone and colouring. Christ may speak as
the moment suggests, but His words are never for the moment only, but
for all time. He refused almost sternly to go unto any save unto the
lost sheep of the house of Israel; yet the Gospels make it abundantly
plain that in His own thoughts His mission was never limited to the tiny
stage within which, during His earthly years, He confined Himself. "I am
the light of the world," He said; and in His last great commission to
His disciples He bade them carry that light unto the uttermost parts of
the earth. In the great High-Priestly prayer He intercedes not only for
His disciples, but for those who through their word should believe on
Him. "I will build My church," He declared, "and the gates of Hades
shall not prevail against it."
(2) So, again, too, in regard to the form of Christ's sayings; to speak
of their artlessness and homely simplicity is to tell only a small part
of the truth concerning them. They are, indeed and especially those
spoken in Galilee, and reported for the most part in the Synoptists, the
perfection of popular speech. How the short, pithy, sententious sayings
cling to the memory like burs! Let almost any of them be commenced, and
as Dr. Stalker says, the ordinary hearer can without difficulty finish
the sentence. Christ was not afraid of a paradox. When, _e.g._, He said,
"Whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also,"
He was ready to risk the possibility of being misunderstood by some
prosaic hearer, that He might the more effectually arouse men to a
neglected duty. His language was concrete, not abstract; He taught by
example and illustration; He thought, and taught others to think, in
pictures. How often is the phrase, "The kingdom of heaven is like
unto----" on His lips! Moreover, His illustrations were always such as
common folk could best appreciate. The birds of the air, the lilies of
the field, the lamp on the lamp-stand, the hen with her chickens under
her wings, the servant following the plough, the shepherd tending his
sheep, the fisherman drawing his net, the sower casting his seed into
the furrow, the housewife baking her bread or sweeping her house,--it
was through panes of common window-glass like these that Christ let in
the light upon the heaped-up treasures of the kingdom of God. No wonder
"the common people heard Him gladly"; no wonder they "all hung upon Him
listening"; or that they "came early in the morning to Him in the temple
to hear Him"! Yet, even in the eyes of the multitude the plain homespun
of Christ's speech was shot with gleams of more than earthly lustre.
There mingled--to use another figure--with the sweet music of those
simple sayings a new deep note their ears had never heard before: "the
multitudes were astonished at His teaching; for He taught them as one
having authority, and not as their scribes." It was not the authority of
powerful reasoning over the intellect, reasoning which we cannot choose
but obey; it was the authority of perfect spiritual intuition. Christ
never speaks as one giving the results of long and painful gropings
after truth, but rather as one who is at home in the world to which God
and the things of the spirit belong. He asserts that which He knows, He
declares that which He has seen.
(3) Another quality of Christ's words which helps us to understand their
world-wide influence is their winnowedness, their freedom from the chaff
which, in the words of others, mingles with the wholesome grain. The
attempt is sometimes made to destroy, or, at least, to weaken, our claim
for Christ as the supreme teacher by placing a few selected sayings of
His side by side with the words of some other ancient thinker or
teacher. And if they who make such comparisons would put into their
parallel columns all the words of Jesus and all the words of those with
whom the comparison is made, we should have neither right to complain
nor reason to fear. Wellhausen puts the truth very neatly when he says,
"The Jewish scholars say, 'All that Jesus said is also to be found in
the Talmud.' Yes, all, and a great deal besides." The late Professor
G.J. Romanes has pointed out the contrast in two respects between Christ
and Plato. He speaks of Plato as "the greatest representative of human
reason in the direction of spirituality"; yet he says "Plato is nowhere
in this respect as compared with Christ." While in Plato there are
errors of all kinds, "reaching even to absurdity in respect of reason,
and to sayings shocking to the moral sense," there is, he declares, in
literal truth no reason why any of Christ's words should ever pass away
in the sense of becoming obsolete. And it is this absence from the
biography of Christ of any doctrines which the subsequent growth of
human knowledge--whether in natural science, ethics, political economy,
or elsewhere--has had to discount which seems to him one of the
strongest arguments in favour of Christianity.
(4) One other quality of Christ's words, which specially caught the
attention of His hearers in the synagogue at Nazareth, should not be
overlooked: "All bare Him witness, and wondered at the words of grace
which proceeded out of His mouth." The reference is, as Dr. Bruce
says, rather to the substance of the discourse than to the manner.
That there was a peculiar charm in the Teacher's manner is undoubted,
but it was what He said, rather than the way in which He said it--the
message of grace, rather than the graciousness of the Messenger--which
caused the eyes of all in the synagogue to be fastened on Him. He had
just read the great passage from the Book of the prophet Isaiah:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor.
He hath sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty them that are bruised,
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."
Then, when the reading was finished, and He had given back the roll to
the attendant, and was sat down, He began to say unto them, "To-day hath
this Scripture been fulfilled in your ears." This was His own programme;
this was what He had come into the world to do--to bear the burden of
the weary and the heavy-laden, to give rest unto all who would learn of
This, then, is the Teacher whose words we are to study together in these
pages. He Himself is saying to us again, "He that hath ears to hear let
him hear." See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh. And again He says,
"Take heed how ye hear." Gracious as He is, this Teacher can be also
very stern. "If any man," He says, "hear My sayings and keep them not, I
judge him not. ... He that receiveth not My sayings hath one that
judgeth him; the word that I speak, the same shall judge him in the last
day." We read of some to whom "good tidings" were preached, whom the
word did not profit. Let us pray that to writer and readers alike it may
prove the word of eternal life.
"Our Father, who art in Heaven.
What meaneth these words?
God lovingly inviteth us, in this little preface, truly to
believe in Him, that He is our true Father, and that we are
truly His children; so that full of confidence we may more
boldly call upon His name, even as we see children with a kind
of confidence ask anything of their parents."--LUTHER'S