Bible History Online
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
ETHICS OF JESUS
I. IN THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
1. The Blessings of the Kingdom
(1) Nature of the Kingdom
(2) Blessedness of the Kingdom
(3) Righteousness--Its Contrasts
(4) Apocalyptic Theories
2. The Character of the Subjects of the Kingdom
(1) Condition of Entrance
(2) Christ's Attitude to Sin
(3) Attainment of Righteousness
"Coming" to Christ
(c) Imitation of Christ--Service Example of Jesus
3. Commandments of the King
The Great Commandments
(a) Love to God
God's Worship, etc.
(b) Duty to Man
Exemplified in Christ
The New Motives
II. IN THE FOURTH GOSPEL
1. Eternal Life
2. Its Source in God
3. Through the Son
4. Need of New Birth
5. Nature of Faith
6. Fruits of Union with Christ
I. In the Synoptic Gospels.
If, following the custom prevalent at present, we adopt, as the general name for the teaching of Jesus in the Synoptists, the Kingdom of God, then the divisions of His ethical teaching will be (1) the Blessings of the Kingdom, (2) the Character of the Subjects, (3) the Commandments of the King.
1. The Blessings of the Kingdom:
(1) Nature of the Kingdom.
"The Kingdom of God" was not a phrase invented by Jesus. It was used before Him by the Baptist. Its proximate source, for both Jesus and John, was the prophet Daniel, who uses it in very striking passages (2:44,45; 7:13,14). The idea of a kingdom of God goes back to the very commencement of the monarchy in Israel, when the prophet Samuel told those who demanded a king that Yahweh was their king, and that they should desire no other. Through all the subsequent history of the monarchy, which was, on the whole, so disappointing to patriotic and pious minds, the conviction lingered that, if God Himself were king, all would be well; and, when at length the Hebrew state was destroyed and the people were carried into captivity, the prophets still believed that for their country there was a future and a hope, if only Yahweh would take to Himself His great power and reign. In the period between the Old Testament and the New Testament such sentiments so greatly prevailed that Schurer has compiled, from the apocryphal literature, a kind of Messianic creed, embracing no fewer than eleven articles, which he supposes to have prevailed before the Advent. It may be doubtful how far such beliefs had taken possession of the general mind. Many of the Sadducees were too satisfied with things as they were to concern themselves about such dreams. But the Pharisees undoubtedly gave a large place in their minds to Messianic expectations, and for these the Zealots were ready to fight. It is, however, to the prosdechomenoi, as they are called, because they were "waiting for the consolation of Israel," that we must look for the purest expression of this heritage derived from the piety of the past. In the hymns at the beginning of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, with which the birth of Jesus was greeted, we encounter an intense and lofty conception of the kingdom of God; and, as the earthly home in which Jesus grew up belonged to this select section of the population, there is little doubt that it was here He imbibed both His Messianic ideas and the phraseology in which these were expressed. His use of the term, the kingdom of God, has sometimes been spoken of as an accommodation to the beliefs and language of His fellow-countrymen. But it was native to Himself; and it is not unlikely that the very commonness of it in the circle in which He grew up rendered Him unconscious of the difference between His own conception and that which prevailed outside of this circle. For, as soon as He began to preach and to make known the sentiments which He included within this phrase, it became manifest that He and His contemporaries, under a common name, were thinking of entirely different things. They emphasized the first half of the phrase--"the kingdom"; He the second--"of God." They were thinking of the external attributes of a kingdom--political emancipation, an army, a court, subject provinces; He of the doing of God's will on earth as it is done in heaven. Even He had felt, at one stage, the glamor of their point of view, as is manifest from the account of the Temptation in the Wilderness; but He had decisively rejected it, resolving not to commence with an external framework on a large scale, to be subsequently filled with character, but to begin with the individual, and trust to time and Providence for visible success. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem proves that He never abandoned the claim to be the fulfiller of all the Old Testament predictions about the kingdom of God; but His enemies not unnaturally interpreted the failure of that attempt as a final demonstration that their own view had been the correct one all along. Still, God was not mocked, and Jesus was not mocked. When, at the end of a generation, the Jewish state sank into ruin and the city by which Jesus was martyred had been destroyed, there were springing up, all over the world, communities the members of which were bound more closely to one another than the members of any other kingdom, obeyed the same laws and enjoyed the same benefits, which they traced up to a King ruling in the heavens, who would appear again on the great white throne, to be the Judge of quick and dead.
(2) Blessedness of the Kingdom.
The enemies of Jesus may be said to have carried out to the bitter end their conception of the kingdom of God, when they nailed Him to a tree; but, in the face of opposition, He carried out His own conception of it too, and He never abandoned the practice of employing this phrase as a comprehensive term for all the blessings brought by Him to mankind. He used, however, other nomenclature for the same objects, such as Gospel, Peace, Rest, Life, Eternal Life, Blessedness. His exposition of the last of these, at the commencement of the Sermon on the Mount, is highly instructive. Seldom, indeed, has the structure of the Beatitudes been clearly understood. Each of them is an equation, in which "blessed" stands on the one side and on the other two magnitudes--the one contained in the subject of the sentence, such as "the poor in spirit," "the meek," and so on; and the other contained in a qualifying clause introduced by "for." Sometimes one of these magnitudes may be a minus quantity,
as in "they that mourn"; but the other is so large a positive magnitude that the two together represent a handsome plus, which thoroughly justifies the predicate "blessed." It is remarkable that the first and the eighth of the reasons introduced by "for" are the same: "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," justifying the statement that this is Christ's own name for the blessedness brought by Him to the world; and the sentences between these, introduced in the same way, may be looked upon as epexegetic of this great phrase. They embrace such great conceptions as comfort, mercy, the inheritance of the earth, the vision of God and sonship, which are all certainly blessings of the kingdom; and the list does not finish without mentioning a great reward in heaven--an immortal hope, which is the greatest blessing of all.
(3) Righteousness--Its Contrasts.
If the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount was to expound at length any one of these bright conceptions, it might have been expected to be the kingdom of God itself; and this we should have desired. But the one to which this honor fell has still to be mentioned. It is "righteousness." In one of the Beatitudes the speaker had promised that to be filled with this should be part of the blessedness which He was expounding; and, when He had finished the Beatitudes, He turned back to this conception and devoted the rest of His discourse to its interpretation. Nowhere else, in the reports of His preaching which have come down to us, is there to be found an exposition so sustained and thorough. There is no better way of describing a new thing, with which those who listen are unfamiliar, than to contrast it with something with which they are perfectly acquainted; and this was the method adopted by Jesus. He contrasted the righteousness with which the subjects of the kingdom were to be blessed with the figure of the righteous man familiar to them, first, in the discourses of the scribes, to which they were wont to listen in the synagogue, and secondly, in the example of the Pharisees, to whom they were wont to look up as the patterns of righteousness. It is well known what ample opportunities He found, by means of this felicitous disposition, for probing to the very depths of morality, as well as for covering His opponents with ridicule and exploding the honor in which they stood with the masses. The whole of this scheme is, however, exhausted long before the Sermon comes to a close; and the question is, whether, in the latter half of the Sermon, He still keeps up the exposition of righteousness by contrasting it with the ordinary course of the world. I am inclined to think that this is the case, and that the key to the latter half of the discourse is the contrast between righteousness and worldliness. The doctrine, at all events, which issues from the whole discussion is that the righteousness promised is distinguished by three characteristics--inwardness, as distinguished from the externality of those who believed morality to extend to outward words and deeds alone, and not to the secret thoughts of the heart; secrecy, as distinguished from the ostentation of those who blew a trumpet before them when they were doing their alms; and naturalness, like that of the flower or the fruit, which grows spontaneously from a healthy root, without forcing.
See SERMON ON THE MOUNT.
(4) Apocalyptic Theories.
This substitution of righteousness for the kingdom in the greatest public discourse which has come down to us is a significant indication of the direction in which the mind of Jesus was tending, as He drew away from the notions and hopes of contemporary Judaism. It is evident that He was filling the idea of the kingdom more and more with religious and moral contents, and emptying it of political and material elements. There are scholars, indeed, at the present day, who maintain that His conception of the kingdom was futuristic, and that He was waiting all the time for an apocalyptic manifestation, which never came. He was, they think, expecting the heavens to open and the kingdom to descend ready made to the earth, like the New Jerusalem in the Apocalypse. But this is to assume toward Jesus exactly the attitude taken up toward Him in His own day by Pharisees and high priests, and it degrades Him to the level of an apocalyptic dreamer. It ignores many sayings of His, of which the parable of the Mustard Seed may be taken as an example, which prove that He anticipated for Christianity a long development such as it has actually passed through; and it fails to do justice to many passages in His teaching where He speaks of the kingdom as already come. Of the latter the most remarkable is where He says, "The kingdom of God is within you"--a statement preceded by a distinct rejection of the notion of an apocalyptic manifestation; for the word "observation," which He employs in describing the way in which the kingdom is not to come, is an astronomical term, describing precisely such a phenomenon as He is supposed by such scholars as John Weiss and Schweitzer to have been expecting. The more it became evident that He was not to command the homage of the nation, the more did He devote Himself to the education of the Twelve, that they might form the nucleus of His kingdom upon earth; and it was certainly not with apocalyptic visions that He fed their receptive minds.
2. The Character of the Subjects of the Kingdom:
(1) Conditions of Entrance.
The righteousness described so comprehensively in the Sermon on the Mount is not infrequently spoken of as the condition of entrance to the kingdom of God; but this is altogether to misunderstand the mind of Jesus. The righteousness described by Him is the gift of God to those who are already inside the kingdom; for it is the supreme blessing for the sake of which the kingdom is to be sought; and the condition imposed on those who are outside is not the possession of righteousness, but rather a bottomless sense of the want of it. The more utterly they feel their own lack of righteousness, the more ready are they for entrance into the kingdom. They must "hunger and thirst after righteousness." It has been remarked already that the description, in the Beatitudes, of the character of the candidates for the kingdom is sometimes of a negative character; and indeed, this is the account in the teaching of Jesus generally of those whom He attracts to Himself. They are drawn by a sense of boundless need in themselves and by the apprehension of an equivalent fullness in Him; He calls those "that labor and are heavy laden," that He may give them rest.
(2) Christ's Attitude to Sin.
The first word of the prophetic message in the Old Testament was always the denunciation of sin; and only after this had done its work did the vision of a good time coming rise on the horizon. The same was repeated in the message of John the Baptist; and it did not fail to reappear in the teaching of Jesus, though His mode of treating the subject was entirely His own. He did not, like the prophets, take up much time with convicting gross and open sinners. Perhaps He thought that this had been sufficiently done by His predecessors; or, perhaps He refrained because He understood the art of getting sinners to convict themselves. Yet, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, He showed how profoundly He understood the nature and the course of the commonest sins. If, however, He thus spared transgressors who had no covering for their wickedness, He made up for this leniency by the vigor and even violence with which He attacked those who hid their sins under a cloak of hypocrisy. Never was there a prophetic indignation like that with which He assailed such sinners in Mt 23; and He shaped the same charges into an unforgettable picture in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. He never named the Sadducees in the same unreserved manner as He thus designated their antagonists; but in more parables than one it is possible that He had them in view. The Unjust Judge was probably a Sadducee; and so was the Rich Man at whose gate the beggar Lazarus was wont to sit. The sin of the Sadducees, at all events, did not escape His prophetic animadversion. In Lk especially He alludes with great frequency to worldliness and the love of money as cankers by which the life of the human soul is eaten out and its destiny destroyed. Thus did Jesus exercise the prophetic office of denouncing all the sins of His time; and He showed what, in this respect, He thought of mankind in general when He began a sentence with, "If ye then, being evil" (Lk 11:13), and when He gave the dreadful description of the heart of man which begins, "Out of the heart come forth evil thoughts" (Mt 15:19).
(3) Attainment of Righteousness.
To all serious students of the Sermon on the Mount it is well known that the popular notion of it, as containing a simple religion and an easy-going morality, is utterly mistaken; on the contrary, the righteousness sketched by the Preacher is far loftier than that ever conceived by any other religious teacher whatever. Not only, however, does He thus propose to conduct human beings to a platform of attainment higher than any attempted before, but He, at the same time, recognizes that He must begin with men lower than almost any others have allowed. It is here that the ethics of Jesus differ from those of the philosophers. He takes the task much more seriously; and, as the ascent from the one extreme to the other is much longer, so the means of reaching the goal are much more difficult. Philosophers, assuming that man is equal to his own destiny, lay the demands of the moral law before him at once, taking it for granted that he is able to fulfill them; but the path adopted by Jesus is more remote and humbling. There are in it steps or stages which, in His teaching, it is easy to discern.
The first of these is repentance. This was a watchword of all the prophets: after sin had been denounced, penitence was called for; and no hope of improvement was held out until this had been experienced. In the message of John the Baptist it held the same place; and, in one of the Gospels, it is expressly stated that Jesus began His ministry by repeating this watchword of His predecessor. Not a few of the most touching scenes of His earthly ministry exhibit penitents at His feet, the most moving of them all being that of the woman who was "a sinner"; and, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, we have a full-length picture of the process of repentance.
The second step is faith--a word of constant recurrence in the teaching Of Jesus. In many cases it is connected with His healing ministry; but this was a parable of a more interior ministry for the soul. In many cases it formed a school of preparation for the other, as in the case of the man borne of four, who was brought to Christ for the healing of his body, but was presented, in addition, with the gift of the forgiveness of his sins. In healing him Jesus expressly claimed the power of forgiving sins; and, in His great saying at the institution of the Lord's Supper, He showed the connection which this was to have with His own death.
(c) Imitation of Christ--Service:
Instead of speaking of faith and of believing, Jesus frequently spoke of "coming" to Himself; and then followed the invitation to "follow" Him, which, accordingly, is the third stage. Following Him meant, in many cases, literally leaving home and occupation, in order to accompany Him from place to place, as He journeyed through the land; and, as this involved sacrifice and self-denial, He frequently combined with "following" the invitation to take up "the cross." But by degrees this literal meaning dropped away from the invitation, or at least became secondary to that of imitation, which must be the only meaning when Paul, adopting the language of his Master, calls upon men and women to be "followers" of him, as he was of Christ. It is seldom that Jesus, in so many words, calls upon others to imitate Himself; indeed, He does so less frequently than Paul; but it is implied in following Him, if not literally expressed; and it was a direct consequence of keeping company with Him and coming under the influence of His example. It is highly characteristic that, in the only place where He directly calls upon others to "learn" from Him, the virtue to which He draws attention is meekness--"Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart." The same quality was often emphasized by Him, when He was describing the character which He wished to see exhibited by others, "For every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Lk 14:11). In spite, however, of the importance thus attached by Him to humility, He not only combined with it, as has been pointed out by Bushnell, in his famous chapter on the character of Christ in Nature and the Supernatural, the most stupendous personal claims, but also attributed to His followers a position of personal distinction among men, and called upon them to perform services far beyond the reach of ordinary mortals, saying to them, "Ye are the salt of the earth," "Ye are the light of the world," and ordering them to make disciples of all nations. The principle by which this apparent contradiction is bridged over is another favorite idea of His teaching, namely, Service. He who is able to serve others on a large scale is, in a sense, superior to those he serves, because he is furnished with the resources of which they stand in need; yet he places himself beneath them and forgets his own claims in ministering to their necessities. There are few of the utterances of Jesus in which the very genius of His ethical system is more fully expressed than that in which He contrasts greatness as it is conceived among men of the world with greatness as He conceives it and His followers must learn to conceive it: "Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." Of this difficult rule, He was able to add, He Himself had given, and was still to give, the most perfect illustration; for "even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mt 20:25 ff the King James Version).
This reminds us that, while the character of the subjects of the kingdom is to be learned from the words of Jesus, it may be also derived from His example. That which He demanded from others He fulfilled in His own conduct; and thus the dry precepts of the moral law were invested with the charm of a living personality. Brief as the records of His life are, they are wonderfully rich in instruction of this kind; and it is possible, by going through them with study and care, to form a clear image of how He bore Himself in all the departments of human life--in the home, in the state, in the church, as a friend, in society, as a man of prayer, as a student of Scripture, as a worker, as a sufferer, as a philanthropist, as a winner of souls, as a preacher, as a teacher, as a controversialist, and so on. This is the modern imitation of Christ--that of the details of His earthly existence--the Imitation of a Kempis was an imitation of the cosmical history of the Son of God, as He moves on His Divine mission from heaven to the cross and back to the throne of the universe. See the writer's Imago Christi.
3. Commandments of the King:
The Great Commandments.
In accordance with Scriptural usage, Jesus called by the name of "commandments" those actions which we call "duties"; and He has made this part of our subject easy by reducing the commandments to two: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second like unto it is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Mt 22:37-39). He did not invent either of these commandments; for both occur in the Old Testament (Dt 6:5; Lev 19:18). There, however, they lie far apart and are buried out of sight. The second of them was still more deeply buried under a misinterpretation of the scribes, to which reference is made in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus rescued them from oblivion; He showed the vital and indissoluble connection between the sentiments which they enforce--love of God and love of man--which had been long and violently separated; and He lifted them up into the firmament of ethics, to shine forever as the sun and moon of duty.
(a) Love to God:
It has been denied by some writers on Christian ethics that there can be any such thing as duties to God, and by writers on philosophical ethics love to God is not generally regarded as coming within the scope of their science. But the duty of man is concerned with all the objects, and especially all the beings, he is related to; and to Jesus the outflow of man's heart toward Him who is the author of his being and the source of all his blessings seemed the most natural of actions. "I love Yahweh" was a sentiment to which mankind had risen even in the Old Testament (Ps 116:1), where it corresponds with not a few expressions of the Divine love equally fervent; and it is not a figure of speech at all when Jesus demands love for His Father from heart and soul, strength and mind.
Love to God involves, however, love to what may be called the Things of God, toward which Jesus always manifested tenderness and honor. Those who are not themselves ecclesiastically minded have, indeed, taken it for granted that Jesus was indifferent, if not hostile, to the objects and actions by which the Almighty is honored; and it is often said that the only service of God which mattered in His eyes was the service of man. But, although, like the prophets before Him, Jesus exposed with withering rebuke the hypocrisy of those who put ritual in the place of righteousness, it requires no more than a glance at His sayings, and the other records of His life, to perceive that His mind was occupied no less with duties to God than with duties to men; indeed, the former bulk more largely in His teaching. The only arrangement of religion with which He seems out of sympathy is the Sabbath; but this was due to a peculiarity of the times; and it is quite conceivable that in other circumstances He might have been a strenuous supporter of Sabbath observance. If there had been in His day a Sadducean attempt to rob the people of the day of rest, He would have opposed it as strenuously as He did the Pharisaic attempt to make it a burden and a weariness to the common man. By declaring the Sabbath to have been made for man (Mk 2:27) He recognized that it was instituted at the beginning and intended for the entire course of man's existence upon earth. With the other things of God, such as His House, His Word, and His Worship, He manifested sympathy equally by word and deed; He frequented both the Temple and the synagogue; so imbued was His mind with the lit of the Old Testament that He spoke habitually in its spirit and phraseology, having its figures and incidents perfectly at command; and by both precept and example He taught others to pray.
Nothing is commoner than the statement that Jesus had nothing to do with the founding of the church or the arrangement of its polity; but this is a subjective prejudice, blind to the facts of the case. Jesus realized that the worship of the Old Testament was passing away, but He was Himself to replace it by a better order. He did not merely breathe into the air a spirit of sweetness and light; if this had been all He did, Christianity would soon have vanished from the earth; but He provided channels in which, after His departure, His influence should flow to subsequent generations. Not only did He found the church, but He appointed the most important details of its organization, such as preaching and the sacraments; and He left the Twelve behind Him not only as teachers, but as those who were able to instruct other teachers also. There may be ecclesiastical arrangements which are worked in a spirit far removed from the love of God; and such are of course contrary to the mind of Christ; but the love of God, if it is strong, inevitably overflows into the things of God, and cannot, in fact, permanently exist without them.
(b) Duty to Man:
As has been hinted above, the sayings of our Lord about the details of duty to man are less numerous than might have been expected, but what may be lacking in numbers is made up for in originality and comprehensiveness. Many single sayings, like the Golden Rule (Mt 7:12) and the lovely word about a cup of cold water given in the name of Christ (Mt 10:42), are revolutionary in the ethical experience of mankind; and so are such parables as the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son and the Unmerciful Servant. The commandment to love enemies and to forgive injuries (Mt 5:43-48), if not entirely novel, received a prominence it had never possessed before. The spirit of all such sayings of Jesus is the same: He seeks to redeem men from selfishness and worldliness and to produce in them a godlike passion for the welfare of their fellow-creatures. These they may bless with gifts of money, where such may be required, still more with sympathy and helpfulness, but most of all with the gospel.
Besides such directions as to the behavior of man to man, there are also among the words of Jesus memorable maxims about the conduct of life in the family, in the state, and in society; and here again He taught even more by example than by precept. As son, brother and friend, He fulfilled all righteousness; but He also, as teacher, determined what righteousness was. Thus He opposed the laxity as to divorce prevalent in His time, pointing back to the pure ideal of Paradise. His conception of womanhood and His tenderness toward childhood have altered entirely the conceptions of men about these two conditions. He was a patriot, glorying in the beauty of His native Galilee and weeping over Jerusalem; and though, from birth to death, He was exposed to constant persecution from the constituted authorities, He not only obeyed these Himself but commanded all others to do the same. Nothing moved Him more than the sight of talents unused, and, therefore, it lay deep in His system of thought to call upon everyone to contribute his part to the service of the body politic; but no less did He recognize the right of those who have done their part of the general task to share in the fruits of industry; "for the laborer is worthy of his hire" (Lk 10:7).
Priceless, however, as are the commandments of Jesus in regard to the things of man, as well as in regard to the things of God, it is not in these that we have to seek His ethical originality, but in the new motive brought into play by Him for doing the Divine will, when once it has been ascertained. As He made it easy to love God by revealing God's love, so did He make it easy to love man by revealing the greatness of man, as an immortal creature, who has come from God and is going to God. Whatever is done to man, good or evil, Jesus esteems as done to Himself; for the great saying to this effect, in the account of the Last Judgment in Mt 25, though applicable in the first place to Christians, may be extended to men in general. The corollary of the fatherhood of God is the brotherhood of men; and the second great commandment stands under the protection of the first.
II. In the Fourth Gospel.
1. Eternal Life:
In the Fourth Gospel Eternal Life takes the same place as the kingdom of God in the other three. The author is not, indeed, unaware that Jesus employed the latter phrase for the sum of the blessings brought by Him to the world; and it has already been remarked that the Synoptists occasionally employ "life" as an equivalent for the phrase they usually make use of. The reason of John's preference for his own phrase may have lain in some personal idiosyncrasy, or it may have been due to the Gentileenvironment in which he wrote. But the phrase is one suggestive and instructive in itself in the highest degree. It had already entered deeply into the language of religion before the time of Christ; indeed, in every part of Holy Writ the idea is common that separation from God is death, but that union with Him is life.
2. Its Source in God:
In the teaching of Jesus, as this is found in John, the world lies in death, because it has become separated from God, and the children of men are in danger of perishing everlastingly as the punishment of their sin; but "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16).
3. Through the Son:
This life is, first, in God, who abides in everlasting blessedness; but it is not, even in Him, at rest, but agitated with an impulse to communicate itself. Then, it is in the Son--"For as the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself" (Jn 5:26); not, however, for Himself alone, but for the purpose of being communicated to those destitute of it. For this reason He was made flesh and dwelt among us; and He communicated it through His words, which were "words of eternal life." The words of Jesus, as thus bringing life, are the "light" of the world; and they are the "truth"--two favorite expressions of this Gospel--or He of whom they speak is Himself the light and the truth; He said Himself, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." He is in His word in such a way that, when it is received in the right spirit, He enters the soul personally--"ye in me, and I in you" (Jn 14:20). As food is taken into the body, to sustain life, so does He become the life of the soul; He is the "bread of life" and the "water of life" (Jn 6:35). As, however, bread has to be broken, before it is eaten, and water to be poured out, when it is drunk, so does the virtue which is in the Son of God only become available through His death--"I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: yea and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world" (Jn 6:51).
4. Need of New Birth:
The world lying dead in sin, a new birth is required for those who are to enter into life; and this is necessary even for so fine a character as Nicodemus (Jn 3:3,5,7). Without this change, the children of men are insensible to Divine revelations; and even the children of privilege, who had enjoyed the Old Testament revelation, were indifferent to eternal life, when it came near to them in the person of Christ. Hence, there was required a special drawing on the part of God to awaken the sleeping soul--"No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him" (Jn 6:44); and, where this influence was not responded to, there might be the most violent and persistent opposition to Christ on the part of those who believed themselves to be the favorites of heaven. The new birth is accompanied with spiritual vision--"seeing the kingdom of God" (Jn 3:3)--and, throughout the Fourth Gospel, remarkable stress is laid on the virtue of such seeing or knowing. It leads so directly to faith that to "know" and to "believe" are virtually the same act (Jn 10:38). Faith is the reception into the soul of the life eternal, or of Him who has been discerned by the spiritual vision and who is Himself the life. It is the eating of the bread of life, the drinking of the water of life, and it makes and keeps alive.
5. Nature of Faith:
Since faith is thus the means whereby the eternal life becomes a personal possession, it is the one thing needful and the sum of all the commandments--"This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (Jn 6:29). It is the unique commandment, comprehending all the commandments, and it "worketh by love" toward the fulfillment of them all. What these are is, however, less brought out in detail in this Gospel than in the others, for it is a peculiarity of the mind of Jesus, as recorded by John, to deal with central principles and to assume that the consequences will follow as a matter of course. Of the organization, for example, of the community which was to perpetuate His influence, after He had left the world, He says much less in this Gospel than even in the Synoptists; yet He characterizes the very essence of the new body in such words as this, "I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me" (Jn 17:23). In the last half of this saying there is a hint of the influence to be exerted on the outside world by the display of Christian character, with the result of producing belief; but this aim was to be sought more directly through testimony (Jn 15:27) and the "word" of the disciples (Jn 17:20). Thus would even the distant, "which are not of this fold," be brought in, so that there might be "one flock" and "one shepherd" (Jn 10:16). Inside the fold it is the greatest privilege and honor, as well as responsibility, to feed the "sheep" and to feed the "lambs" (Jn 21:15,16,17).
6. Fruits of Union with Christ:
Character and conduct are, even for the disciples of Christ, "commandments," as, indeed, Jesus does not disdain to speak of the various parts of His own vocation by the same humble name, implying the necessity of moral effort and the temptation to failure (Jn 15:10). Therefore, they are also proper subjects for prayer. He prayed for the disciples, both that they might be kept from the evil in the world and that they might be sanctified through the truth (Jn 17:15,17), and doubtless He expected them to ask the same things for themselves, as theirs was to be a life of prayer (Jn 16:24). But, in the last resort, they are the fruits of union with Himself, and eternal life is not merely a gift of the future, to be given at the death of the body, but is enjoyed even now by those who abide in the vine.
Monographs on the ethics of Jesus in German by Grimm and in English by King; compare also Peabody, Jesus Christ and the Social Question, and Jesus Christ and the Christian Character; relevant portions works of larger scope, such as Jacoby, New Testament Ethik, Wendt, The Teaching of Jesus, and the handbooks of New Testament theology by Weiss, Holtzmann, Schlatter, Feine, Weinel, Stevens. Very ample references to literature in Stalker, The Ethic of Jesus.
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'ETHICS OF JESUS'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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