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"Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son."--2 JOHN IX (R.V.).


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 the people."

John iii. 2. "A teacher come from God."



John xvii. 11. "Holy Father."



Matthew xvi. 15. "Who say ye that I am?"



Mark x. 45. "The Son of Man came ... to give His life a ransom for many."



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."



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?"



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 morrow."



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."



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."



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."



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 quenched."


"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." WHITTIER.



"A prophet mighty in word before God and all the people."--LUKE xxiv. 19.

"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."[1] 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 Jesus.[2]

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."[3] 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"[5]--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."[6] 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,[9] 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 Him.

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 CATECHISM.

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