The Design of the Scriptures - A First Reader in Biblical Theology by Robert C. Dentan
Robert C. Dentan was Professor of Old Testament Literature and Interpretation at the General Theological Seminary in New York. He is the author of The King and His Cross; Preface to Old Testament Theology; The Holy Scriptures: A Survey (a volume in the Seabury Press Church’s Teaching Series), and The Apocrypha, Bridge of the Testaments. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Richard Kendall.
Part Three: Life
I. LIFE UNDER JUDGMENT
Amos 7:7—9; Psalm 5o; Matthew 25:14—30; Romans 14:10—12
As we turn from a study of biblical doctrine to the way of life which the Bible teaches, we need to observe first of all that there are certain broad conceptions which determine and control it. Three phrases will help us to grasp them: "life under judgment," "newness of life," and "life in Christ."
The thought of divine judgment dominates the whole Bible and the passages selected for our present study are only a sample of an immense number which deal with the same theme. For the biblical writers, man himself is never the "measure of things." Man in the Bible is not an autonomous being, determining what is right by some principle of human expediency, responsible only to his own educated conscience. What is right is determined by the will of God, and man is directly responsible to God, who will someday pass judgment upon him for what he is and does. This solemn consciousness of judgment pervades the whole biblical view of life and conduct.
The first of our passages (Amos 7:7—9) expresses the idea of judgment—which is especially strong in the Old Testament prophets—through a picturesque and unforgettable image. The prophet, in a vision, sees the Lord standing beside the wall of a building with a plumb line in His hand. If a wall is to be strong it must be vertically straight, and it is the task of the master architect to see that the wall built by his workmen conforms to this basic specification. It is possible, indeed probable, that Amos was inspired to use this picture by actually seeing a building under construction and observing the superintendent testing a wall in just this fashion. The wall of the prophet’s vision, of course, is the life of the people of Israel and the plumb line is for the purpose of determining the measure of their conformity to God’s will. In the prophet’s view, Israel has clearly failed the test and must now expect the punishment of its sins. The Lord, whose very nature is righteousness and justice, has passed final judgment upon them.
The prophet, in this passage, leaves the precise nature of Israel’s sins unspecified, though elsewhere he makes it clear that he is chiefly concerned with man’s unkindness to his fellow man. The author of Psalm 50, however, has quite specific charges to bring. At the beginning of his poem (vv. 1—6) he pictures the scene, the Divine Judge appearing in beauty and power with heaven and earth as His assessors (~). Then follows the indictment (7—21). The charge against the people of Israel is not that they have failed to obey the ritual. They have been meticulous in offering sacrifice (8), but this is only an outward thing. In his anger, the psalmist speaks of animal sacrifice with almost sacrilegious contempt: God has no need for the offering of animals, for He owns "every beast of the forest and the cattle upon a thousand hills" (l0—13). What God is concerned about is the moral failure of His people and in particular the sins to which the "devout" are especially prone: cowardice in the face of public wickedness (18) and a propensity to indulge secretly in the sin of slander (20).
Our Lord, in typical fashion, discusses the theme of judgment in the form of a parable (Matt. 25:14—30). He compares God to a wealthy landowner who has gone into a distant country and left his property, in varying large amounts, in the hands of retainers, expecting them to use their trust to his advantage. Two of them do so and, when the master returns, he judges and rewards them accordingly. But the third, a shiftless and irresponsible servant, had merely hid his sum in the ground and tried to explain his conduct as due to fear of his lord’s hard-heartedness (vv. 24f). The lord refused to be fooled by so feeble and transparent an excuse and ordered him to be punished with pitiless severity (30). Jesus does not, of course, wish us to think that God is hardhearted like the master in the parable, but only to realize that he deserves at least the same measure of devotion that an intelligent man would feel compelled to give to a rigorous, unfeeling earthly lord. It is typical of the large-mindedness of Jesus that the sins to which the parable refers are not particular infractions of the moral code, but the sins which arise from men’s lazy refusal to use their God-given capacities to the utmost of their personal ability.
St. Paul, writing to the Christians at Rome (Rom. 14: 10—12), draws from the idea of judgment an important conclusion: if men are to be judged by God it follows that they should not be so presumptuous as to judge each other. From a slightly different point of view, it is the same principle stated by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount:
‘Judge not that ye he not judged" (Matt. 7:1 f). One might suppose that the conviction that all men are facing God’s judgment would make for a certain harshness of character. But, for Jesus and Paul, the thought of the inevitability of judgment does not inspire severity toward others, but rather a greater sense of sympathy and understanding. We, too, must face the Judge and are well aware of our inadequacy to meet Him. A Christian knows that he could never hope to pass the test except as he is justified by the mercy of God in Christ. While the thought that he is living under God’s judgment leads the Christian to view his own life with deepest misgiving, the thought of God’s kindness and mercy toward himself ought to make him more generous than most men in his judgment of others.
II. NEWNESS OF LIFE
Leviticus 19:1—4; 20.22—26; Ezekiel 36:24—28;
Throughout the Bible it is repeatedly emphasized that the way of life of the people of God is qualitatively different from the life of ordinary men. In a passage we have already examined in a different connection Paul makes use of the memorable phrase "newness of life" to characterize the distinctive behavior expected of Christians (Rom. 6:4). They are not to be content with a standard of conduct a little better than that of the secular world, but must strive for a quality of life which is totally new. Natural goodness is not enough; only a special and supernatural goodness will suffice.
Already in the Old Testament the same point had been made. Since Israel was chosen of God and dedicated in a special way to His service, all her members had an obligation to conform to a new and higher standard of life. The principle is clearly set forth in the two passages from Leviticus (19:1—4; 20:22—26) which make up our first selection. "Ye shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy" (19:2; 20:26). All the provisions of the "Mosaic" Law—many of them purely arbitrary—with which the Book of Leviticus is concerned, were designed to create in the minds of the people a sense of separateness (i.e. "holiness") from other nations and of their duty to live by the higher moral law which God had given them. Brief examples of these laws are included in our reading (19:3—4; 20:25).
This strange mixture of purely ceremonial commands with high moral precepts will not appeal to the modern reader, and was, indeed, abolished by the Gospel. But we must not forget that the mixture served its purpose well for the time in which it was compiled and that the people of Israel, with all their defects, succeeded in manifesting a quality of moral life without any parallel among the nations of the ancient world—a fact which modern scientific study of the culture of the Ancient Near East is making us realize ever more clearly.
Israel’s great prophets were the voice of her conscience, constantly calling her to higher levels of life than she ever actually attained. For them, the primary fact about Israel was her failure to be the "separate" and "holy" nation which God intended her to be, and the greatest of them began to look forward to the coming of a new and transforming power which would affect the innermost springs of her people’s conduct. This is what Ezekiel was looking for when he predicted that in time to come God would sprinkle His people with clean water and give them a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek. 36:24—28). The Law had given to Israel a new and higher external standard of life; what the prophet desired was the bestowal of an inward grace which would effectively transform men’s characters and give them a new quality of inner life as well (see also Ps. 51: 10).
Although this hope was fulfilled by the gift of the Holy Spirit, it was still necessary for New Testament writers to exhort Christians to use their new-found power to achieve the "holiness" (separateness) to which God summoned them (I Pet. 1:15f). Paul, in II Corinthians 6:14—18, urges his people to recognize the absolute distinction between the way of life of God’s people and that of ordinary men of the world. Christians live by new standards and a new inner principle and cannot compromise with the standards of the world. The Christian is not merely a better kind of worldly man; if he is truly a Christian, he is "a new creature" (5: 17).
The visible symbol of the Christian’s new character is the act of baptism with which his life begins. At the very moment of its inception his Christian life is stamped with a sign which marks it as new and qualitatively different. As a Christian he has been "sprinkled with clean water" and given "a new heart" and "a new spirit" (Ezek. 36: 25f).
Paul develops this theme beautifully and at length in the passage from Romans (6:4—13) previously discussed and in the passages from Colossians (2:6—13; 3:1—14) selected for reading in the present connection. Like men of the Old Israel, Christians, he says, are circumcised— though with a purely spiritual circumcision—to mark them off from other men. Mystically buried with Christ by submersion in the waters of baptism, the Christian has died to his old way of life and risen with Christ to a new life which is potentially of altogether different quality (2:11—13).
Unhappily, most Christians, in Paul’s day as in ours, failed to achieve fully the kind of life to which they were called and for which they were now prepared, so Paul appeals to them in moving language to stretch their moral muscles and take advantage of the privilege which is theirs (Col. 3:1—14). In the paradoxical words of a modern writer he asks them "to become what they are." The implications of the opening clause "If ye then be risen with Christ . ." are as disturbing today as when it was first written. Even the poorest of Christians will occasionally show some of the qualities of Christian life, but few of them even begin to realize the amazing possibilities of the "newness of life" to which they are called and of which they are capable.
The precise form of that life will emerge from our later studies, but some of its marks are specifically mentioned in the passage before us: truthfulness (v. 9), indifference to distinctions of race and nation (11), a forgiving spirit (13) and love, the most basic quality of all (14).
III. LIFE IN CHRIST
Exodus 33:12—16; Psalm ~ Galatians 2:14—20;
A third characteristic of the way of life taught in the Bible is that it is a life lived "in Christ." This is the most essential characteristic of all, though in the nature of things it is defined only in the New Testament.
What is found in the Old Testament, by way of anticipation and preparation, is a certain stress upon the possibility of close fellowship with God and a sense that without such intimacy life would be very hard indeed. In the first of the passages suggested for reading in this connection (Exod. 33:12—16), Moses is represented as saying that the long journey from Egypt to the Promised Land would be impossible unless the people were accompanied by the presence of God. It was not enough for them to be sure of His approval and help; they needed also the consciousness that He was traveling in the midst of them. Much of the elaborate priestly ceremonial of the Old Testament was designed to give Israel this assurance that God was among them, and the daily encouragement which comes from that knowledge.
If the sense of God’s presence was necessary for the life of the nation, it was equally necessary for the life of devout individuals, as we see from rhe deeply felt words of Psalm 42. Since, in Israelite theology, the presence of God was sacramentally connected with the temple at Jerusalem, an individual who was prevented from attending its services for a long period would naturally feel cut off by this from the fulness of God’s presence, just as a Christian might feel if he were unable for some time to receive Holy Communion. The author of the psalm lived in the far north of Palestine, near Mt. Hermon (v. 6) and was prevented, probably because of physical illness (10), from making his customary pilgrimage to the temple (4). His desire for the sense of God’s nearness, he says, is like the thirst of the wild deer for springs of refreshing water (1) Nevertheless, he knows that his feeling of depression is wrong and that God will soon restore to him the assurance of His presence (5:11; cf. also Psalm 43, which is really part of the same psalm).
This Old Testament sense of longing for companionship with God is fully satisfied by the New Testament view of the life of believers as life "in" Christ. The Christian conception is that the believer lives in Christ as the very atmosphere which he breathes; he lives in Christ as a cell lives in the body to which it belongs. The classical account of this relationship is to be found in John i many other passages, of which only a few have been selected here.
In Galatians 2:14—20 St. Paul is combating the belief of some Church leaders of his day that Christians were still obliged to keep the Jewish Law. Paul insists that believers are made right with God ("justified") solely by their faith in Christ, not by the Mosaic Law, which was valid in its day, but is now abolished (vv. 16—19). By reason of his faith, the Christian has died with Christ and been raised to a totally new form of life (a process symbolized, as we have seen, by baptism). The basic truth about his new life is that it is not actually his, but Christ’s. His intimacy with Christ is so close that it is possible for him to say ". . . I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (20).
In Colossians 1:21—29 the same doctrine is taught in non-polemical terms. Paul speaks of Christ’s redemptive work and its effect upon men’s relationship to God (vv. 21f), of his own preaching of the Gospel and his sufferings on its behalf (23—25), and, finally, sums up the whole content of the Gospel in the striking phrase "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (26f). In the course of these remarks, Paul refers to a significant aspect of life in Christ when he speaks of his body "which is the Church" (24). Life in Christ is not simply a mystical relationship between Christ and the individual believer, but is objectively based upon the individual’s membership in the Church, which is the visible Body of Christ.
Ephesians 4:11—16 develops this same theme in a more elaborate way. All the gifts which Christians have received (11) are intended for strengthening the life of the whole Body of Christ (12) so that every member may achieve that fulness of life in Christ to which he is called (13—15). The passage ends with a complex picture of the harmonious interrelationship between the Body, its members and the life of Christ which is its animating principle (16).
In Romans 12:1—5 Paul appeals to his readers to exhibit the ethical fruits of their Christian profession by their transformed characters (the "newness of life" of which we have previously spoken; v. 2) and their humility of spirit (s). His ethical concern in this passage leads Paul to stress another profoundly significant aspect of life "in Christ." If we are members of Christ by being parts of his Body, then it follows necessarily that we are also members of each other (5); fellowship with Christ has as its inescapable corollary fellowship with other Christians. The implications of this doctrine for the moral life of individuals and the social life of the Christian community hardly needs to be underlined.
This set of readings comes to a fitting conclusion with the magnificent peroration in Ephesians 3:14—19 in which the writer prays for Christ’s continued dwelling in the hearts of his disciples (v. 17) and their growth in the understanding of all that this involves (18f).
As Baptism is the sacrament of "newness of life," so Holy Communion is the sacrament of "life in Christ." But to this we must return later.
Deuteronomy 16:16—17; II Chronicles 29:20—30; Psalm 95;
We have observed that religion, throughout the Bible, is not primarily individual but corporate. One cannot be a religious man, in the full biblical sense of the term, unless he is a member of the divinely established community—the Old Israel of the Mosaic Covenant, the New Israel of the Gospel. The idea of corporateness is even more strongly developed in the New Testament than in the Old because of the doctrine that life in the community is actually "life in Christ," since the Church is Christ’s Body.
One of the first things to be noticed about the community of believers is that it is a worshipping community. From the earliest times it had been recognized that it is a fundamental obligation for all the members to assemble together on regular occasions to offer common worship to God. The law of Israel specified three such occasions during the year, as we see from our first selection, Deuteronomy i6: 16f. In the developed theology of Israel it was believed that proper worship could be offered only in Jerusalem, so more frequent assemblies of the whole worshipping nation could hardly be required.
Nevertheless, worship was offered daily in the temple on behalf of the community, and devout persons came as often as they could. On great occasions there would be special services, such as that described in II Chronicles 29:20—30. The Books of Chronicles are especially valuable for the insight they give into the liturgical life of ancient Israel. The essence of Israel’s worship, as one can see from this passage, was sacrifice and praise—offering to God the best gifts they had (vv. 21—24) and praising Him with joyful hearts (25—28).
Psalm 95 is the greatest of the Old Testament calls to worship and for that reason has always been a part of the regular morning service, in the tradition of the liturgical churches. The psalm does not mention sacrifice, the priest’s activity in worship, but concentrates rather on the attitude of the worshipers. The first part of the psalm summons them to adoration of God (for what He is) and to thanksgiving (for what He has done). The second part, beginning with the challenging cry "Today!" (v. 7), suddenly strikes the new note of penitence and the need for being awake to God’s moral demands, this being the most distinctive emphasis in biblical as opposed to pagan worship.
Jesus took very seriously the obligation of worship which was incumbent upon him as a member of the Old Israel. On the sabbath he was accustomed to attend the synagogue, where Jews of his day met for the study of the Law (Luke 4:16). And his last journey to Jerusalem was made so as to observe the Passover in accordance with the rule of Deuteronomy 16:16f. There he became so indignant at seeing the place of worship profaned by buying and selling that he drove the hucksters out (Mark 11:15—18). Though he knew the days of the temple were almost over (Mark 13:1f), he had only contempt for those who dared to violate its sanctity for private profit. The conditions of worship in the New Israel would be very different from those in the Old, but Christ himself continued to show the deepest respect for the worship of his people.
One of the most significant changes made by the Gospel was the abrogation of the command to worship God in only a single place. It was this which made possible the weekly worship enjoined on Christians. Like so many other commands of the Covenant of Law, the limitation of worship—in the fullest sense—to the temple at Jerusalem had its definite value at a certain stage in the religious development of the people of God, but it would have been a great hindrance to the spread of the Church under the New Covenant of Grace, when the Gospel was to be offered to all the nations of the world. John 4:20—24 is the classical passage. Valid worship can now be offered to God anywhere (v. 21). The passage does not mean, as many suppose, that formal, corporate worship is no longer necessary—that worship is to be "spiritual" in the sense of non-material or non-external. What it means is that the worship of the New Israel will be blessed by the actual presence of God’s Holy Spirit ("in spirit") and will therefore be more real and satisfying ("in truth").
There are numerous brief passages in the New Testament which give us pictures of the early Church at worship. Some of these we have already noted and to others we shall return in a different connection. I Timothy ~: 1—8 is interesting because of its mention of prayer and intercession as another essential ingredient of worship, prayer not only for the Church and its members but for all men everywhere. The kings who are mentioned in v. 2 are of course the heathen rulers of the Roman Empire. It is interesting in v. 8 to notice the mention of the physical attitude of prayer practiced in the early Church—standing with upraised hands. There are still many Eastern Christians who pray in this fashion.
Finally, in Revelation 5:8—14 we have a picture of the ideal worship of the Church in heaven as an early Christian poet and seer imagined it. The formality and splendor of the worship are specially striking. While the worship of the New Testament Church was probably simple and austere, the later Church tended more and more to copy the pattern of heavenly worship even in matters of external detail, as, for example, in the use of incense (v. 8). But whether the worship in any particular congregation be simple or elaborate, it is still true that whenever the Church meets on earth to worship God it is joining its songs of praise to the unceasing worship of heaven in which every created thing has its part (13).
V. HEARING THE WORD
Deuteronomy 4:1—10; Micah 6:1—8; Psalm 119:97—105;
Along with occasions for adoration, thanksgiving, penitence, and intercession, one of the great functions of worship, as described in the Bible, is to provide an opportunity for hearing the Word of God. From the beginning this has been a distinctive emphasis of biblical religion. Whereas pagan religions tend on the whole to stress the seeing of God as the primary religious experience, the religion of the Bible tends to emphasize the hearing of His voice. This does not mean, of course, that the two experiences are in any sense mutually exclusive.
In Deuteronomy 4:1—10, we have what purports to be an extract from Moses’ farewell address, delivered to his people just before he left them on the borders of the Promised Land. Since one can hardly suppose that a stenographer was on hand to take down his actual words on this occasion, it is perhaps better to think of this speech, like so many other speeches in ancient literature, as the creation of a later generation which felt that this is the sort of thing Moses would probably have said. Certainly this was the kind of address which was given year after year at the great festival assemblies of the people of Israel. On each such occasion the congregation would be warned that its very life depended on holding to God’s Word (v. 1) and keeping it free from mere human interpretation (2). They would be reminded of the disastrous effect of disobedience in the past (3), of the rewards which came to those who heard and obeyed (4), and of the sense of God’s nearness which came from the continual proclamation of His Word in their midst (7). Finally, they were instructed not only to hear the Word themselves, but to teach it to their children (9f). This has been called the original charter of religious education.
While the Word of God was regularly and formally proclaimed by the priests at Israel’s public assemblies for worship, it was also announced spontaneously and informally by the prophets. The Word of God contained in the traditional priestly Law was fixed and unchanging, so the prophet had the special function of declaring God’s will in relation to new occasions as they arose. The priestly Word emphasized the eternal changelessness of God’s demands; the prophetic Word made clear their contemporary relevance. Almost any passage chosen at random from the prophetic books would illustrate the nature of the prophetic proclamation, but no finer could be found than Micah 6:1—8, which defines the character of true worship in reply to some who insisted that God was seeking more costly sacrifices (vv. 6f), perhaps even the sacrifice of men’s first-born sons ("the fruit of my body," v. 7).
Although the Word of God as proclaimed in the Old Testament seems, more often than not, to be a word of stern warning rather than comfort, Psalm 119:97—105 reminds us that, in all its forms, the Word or Law of God was always a source of joy and assurance to the devout in ancient Israel.
Our Lord’s great parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4—15) shows how important a place the idea of disseminating the Word of God occupied in his mind. He, his apostles and the ministers of his Church are those who sow the seed of the Word. Often their work seems pointless because the Word falls on unresponsive ears (vv. 5—7, 12—14), but the stress of the parable is rather on the Word’s amazing productivity when it finally reaches a mind attuned to receive it (8, 15). In addition to the primary emphasis on the objective power of the Word, the parable also contains an implicit invitation to the hearer to examine himself with regard to his own subjective capacity to receive it when it comes.
Two other passages from St. Luke’s Gospel (10:38—42; 11:27f) give further illustration of the importance which Jesus attached to the idea of listening for God’s Word and obeying it. In the first of them he certainly does not mean to condemn Martha for being active in good works, but he does intend to suggest the importance of allowing, even in busy lives, sufficient opportunity for quietly listening to the Word of God. The second passage says that however desirable it may be to have a proper reverence for holy things and holy persons, it is even more important to have a mind which is receptive to God’s Word and a will which is eager to obey it.
In our last selection (I Thess. 2:10—13) St. Paul reminds the members of one of the earliest congregations he had founded in Europe that his work among them had not consisted in teaching them some new and profound philosophy of his own devising, but in proclaiming what he believed to be the very Word of God. And, like all the great biblical teachers, he insists that this Word of God, once received, "effectually worketh" in the heart of the believer (13). God’s Word is not merely an "inspiring thought" or a "good idea." It is a power which transforms the lives of those who accept it (cf. Isa. 55: 10f; Jer. 23:29; Heb. 4:12).
The Word can, of course, come to men through various channels. It comes through the reading of the Bible—in private and in public—through preaching, through the prayers and liturgical acts of the Church, and to individuals in their private devotions. It must be sought in all these ways; the important thing is to seek it. The human ear is being constantly assaulted by the words of men; the man who lives by the Bible makes sure that he has regular and adequate opportunity to listen to the Word of God and to discover its meaning for his own situation.
Exodus 16:2—75, 35; John 6:30-35, 47—58;
For Christians, worship involves not only the hearing of God’s Word, but the regular receiving of Holy Communion. This is the sacrament of "life in Christ" as Baptism is the sacrament of "newness of life." As the Christian participates regularly in the sacred meal of his religion, he both reminds himself of his dependence on the life of Christ and actually receives that life through an effective means instituted by Jesus himself.
Christian commentators have always seen a dim foreshadowing of the act of communion in the Old Testament story of the manna in the wilderness (Exod. 16:2—15, 35), which is our first selection. The setting of the story is the desert into which the people of Israel came after their escape from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. In typical human fashion, they began to complain discontentedly of their meager diet and to think with longing of the rich, abundant food they had enjoyed in the land of Egypt (v.3). So God, who can take care of His people in the most barren of regions, provided them with "bread from heaven" (4), "angels’ food" as it is called in one of the Psalms (78:25). The Hebrews themselves called it "manna" from a phrase supposedly meaning "What is it?" The story comes to us from Israel’s ancient traditions, handed down for many generations by word of mouth, and it is impossible to tell precisely what historical actualities underlie it. But, whatever the facts of history may be, the story was impressed upon the minds of later ages as a vivid symbol of God’s ability to care for His people and to feed them, if necessary, with supernatural food.
The story of the manna in the wilderness is the text for the great Eucharistic discourse recorded in John 6:30-35, 47—58. The people are said to have asked Jesus for a miracle like the one which Moses performed in obtaining heavenly food for the children of Israel (vv. 30f). The answer was that a far greater miracle had already taken place. The manna was perishable bread which took care only of men’s physical needs; Jesus himself was the eternal bread which satisfies the hunger and thirst of men’s souls (32—35, 47—50). The thread of the argument is a subtle one which moves almost imperceptibly from a general discussion of Christ as the bread of life to a more specific account of the sacrament of Holy Communion as the means by which that bread is received. Down through v. 50 the thought is plainly that of the Incarnation of the Son of God as an act which occurred in the past and continues in the present; suddenly, in the latter part of v. 51, the tense of the verb shifts to the future and Jesus is represented as speaking of the bread which he will give one day and which will be identical with his flesh offered upon the cross for the life of the world. The reference to Holy Communion becomes unmistakable in vv. 53—56 which speak not only of his flesh, which is the bread, but also of his blood, which is obviously the Eucharistic wine. If one looks again at any of the accounts of the Last Supper, such as Mark 14:22—24, the meaning of the words becomes plain. V. 56 says more explicitly than any other passage in the New Testament that Holy Communion is the primary means by which a Christian maintains and renews his life in Christ.
In a different connection we have already examined one of St. Paul’s two important Eucharistic passages (I Cor. 11:20—34). The other is I Corinthians l0:1—4, 15—17 in which, interestingly enough, Paul also makes use of the Old Testament story of the manna in the wilderness. To the thought of the manna as the bread of communion he adds the thought of the water from the rock (Exod. 17:6) as the drink of communion (v. 4). The specific application to the Eucharist is made in vv. 16f and the important conclusion drawn that through receiving the sacrament Christians are not only brought into communion with Christ but with each other. It is of interest to notice that in vv. 5—14—Omitted here for the sake of clarity— Paul introduces the note of moral obedience as an essential ingredient of the sacramental life, just as he does in 11:27—32. The receiving of Holy Communion is not merely an occasion for mystical enjoyment, but for penitence and moral renewal.
Finally, we turn back in the Old Testament to one of the psalms which is traditionally used as a preparatory devotion for Holy Communion and which expresses better than any other the emotions which Christians feel as they approach the Table of the Lord. We have seen previously how the pious Jew regarded the Temple as the actual dwelling place of God on earth, so that a visit there had much the same value for him as the receiving of Holy Communion has for the Christian. The author of Psalm 84 was a devout Jew who lived in some distant part of the country and could visit the temple only after a pilgrimage through difficult and dangerous territory (v. 6). He wishes that, like the birds (3) or some of the priestly attendants (4), he could spend his life in the temple courts. This was, of course, impossible for him, but even his periodic visits there were sufficient to give him a sense of increasing strength (7) and a more certain knowledge that the Lord is a "sun and shield" (11). True to the biblical point of view, he knows that the joys of communion with God in His temple will be given only to those who "walk uprightly" (11)—to those who are prepared to obey God’s law and seek His will as well as enjoy the comforting sense of His Presence.
VII. WORKING FOR GOD
Esther 4:13—17; Matthew 4:18—22; Acts i6:6—10;
Activism is one of the marked traits of Western civilization. When this takes the form of an exclusive concentration on external activity to the detriment of thought and feeling, or when it leads men to depreciate the value of contemplation and prayer, it deserves to be criticized severely. The trait itself, however, is in large measure due to the influence of the religion of the Bible, which always sees genuine faith as issuing in some kind of activity on behalf of God and God’s people. Biblical religion comes to full fruition only when faith expresses itself in appropriate action.
The call to act is a constantly recurring motif in the Bible story: Abraham is called to leave his home and kindred (Gen. 12:1); Moses is called to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt (Exod. 3:10); Gideon, to preserve the nation from the ravages of the Midianites (Judges 6:14). The classic example is the call of Isaiah, which we have studied in another connection (Isa. 6: i—8), beginning as it does with a vision of God’s glory (vv. 1—4) and ending with the divine query "Whom shall I send and who will go for us?" climaxed by Isaiah’s quick response "Here am I; send me" (8).
Our selections include three further instances of such calls to action. The first is from the Book of Esther (4:13—17). Because of her position as consort of the Persian king, Esther alone had the opportunity to intercede for her people and save them from annihilation by an unscrupulous enemy. At first she is reluctant to do this because of the personal danger involved, but her cousin Mordecai explains that her present privileged position had been given her as part of God’s plan (". . . Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" v. 14). If she fails to act, she will not, of course, defeat the divine purpose, but she and her family will have to face the judgment which comes inevitably upon those who hear God’s call and deliberately ignore it. She accepts the call and the rest of the book tells of the success of her effort.
The other two passages—from the New Testament— tell, in familiar language, of two calls to serve Christ and his Church and of the immediate response which each evoked. In the first (Matt. 4:18—22) it is Jesus himself who summons his first disciples to leave their secular callings and serve him in a special way as "fishers of men." The second (Acts i6:6—w) tells how an already dedicated servant of God, St. Paul, was summoned to give up his carefully laid plans for missionary work and move in a different direction from the one he intended. It was thus that the evangelization of Europe began. These passages illustrate two different kinds of call: the one to a coInplete change of life, the other to allow God’s plans for His work to prevail over one’s own. Both illustrate the sensitivity of spirit and flexibility of mind which the biblical kind of life requires.
All of these accounts contain calls to special, individual and heroic action. But since the religion of the Bible is corporate rather than individual, it may be assumed that most people are called to do relatively unspectacular work within the larger framework of a community project. The two remaining passages give illustrations of this.
In the first (Neh. 4:6, 15—23) we read the story of how the entire citizenry of Jerusalem responded to Nehemiah’s urgent request for help in rebuilding the city walls after the Babylonian exile. Nehemiah’s own call, as related in chapters 1—2 of this book, is a fine example of individual response to the divine summons. But even more inspiring is the picture given here of the response of a whole people, who ‘had a mind to work" (v. 6), each of them taking his place as a mason, a carrier or a bearer of arms to protect his fellows. Tile story reminds one of the way in which the medieval cathedrals were built, with every citizen assisting in the task. The work of the particular individual in such circumstances may be very small, but the total achievement is enormous.
This is the kind of work to which the average Christian has been called by virtue of his baptism and this is the kind of work to which Paul, in Romans 12:6—13, urges the concentrated devotion of his readers. Each member of the congregation has a call to work for God and has received the grace which makes it possible for him to perform it. Some are called to the ministry, some others to help in the work of teaching, some to positions of responsibility in the administration of the parish, others merely to contribute to the needs of tile Church or to do occasional acts of mercy (vv. 7, 8, 13). The scope of the work is not important. What is important is that it is done in response to God’s call and with the wholehearted consecration which God’s work requires—with cheerfulness, humility, fervor, prayerfulness and infinite patience (8—12).
VIII. THE MORAL STRUGGLE
Deuteronomy 30:15—20; Judges 7:15—25; Isaiah 59:15—19;
The hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers" expresses a view of the Christian life which is deeply rooted in the biblical tradition. The Bible is not primarily concerned with teaching a system of philosophy or even with communicating a body of doctrine. It is chiefly concerned with the direction and motivation of human life, though not in the sense of inculcating merely minimum standards of social decency or giving additional force to conventional moral sanctions. The overruling passion of the biblical authors—and the Bible is nothing if not a passionate book—is to win men to total and militant commitment to God as He has revealed Himself in the history of His people, and to the kind of life which He has commanded.
Throughout the Bible there runs the view that the world is a battlefield between two opposing camps: God and His enemies, the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of evil. It is not enough for men to lead "good lives"; they must deliberately choose to fight either on the one side or on the other—for the God of Israel or the gods of Canaan, for Yahweh or for Baal, for Christ or for the devil. As in wars between nations, neutrality is impossible and in many instances equivalent to treachery. At some point every man must make the choice, for decision is the first step toward moral maturity as the Bible understands it. The Christian is assumed to have elected for God at his baptism, where he was enrolled to serve as "Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end."
The passage from Deuteronomy (30:15—20) sets forth in classical language the imperative character of this choice: ". . . I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse . . ." (v. 19). It inevitably reminds us of the language of Jesus himself when lie presented the choice in terms of "the two ways," the broad way which leads to destruction and the narrow way which leads to life (Matt. 7:13f). Neither passage makes allowance for any deferred choice or for ambiguity of purpose once the choice has been made. In Deuteronomy the thrice-repeated phrase "this day" (15, i8, 19) underlines the urgency of the call to decision (cf. Ps. 95:7).
Having made the choice, men must then prepare to engage in the struggle. The soldier is a common image for the character of the Christian in the New Testament. In part, at least, this goes back to the original Old Testament conception of the people of God as a nation, in which, as in every other nation, the citizens had the duty of defending their country against foreign enemies. In Israel’s later history this duty was largely delegated, as with us, to a professional or semiprofessional standing army, but in the Book of Judges we see the idea in its original purity. In that far-off day every Hebrew male was a member of a militia and personally responsible for the defense of the community. The story in Judges 7:15—25 is a typical instance of the way in which this operated. Notice how even here the religious implications of the struggle are conveyed by the battle-cry "For the Lord and for Gideon" (v. i8 RSV).
In every period the God of Israel Himself was conceived as a warrior, sometimes with a vividness somewhat shocking to our refined modern sensibilities. In Isaiah 59:15—19 the prophet sees God putting on His armor in preparation for a battle (v. 17) . . ."righteousness" as a "breastplate," "salvation" as a "helmet, ""vengeance" for "clothing" and "zeal as a cloak." While undoubtedly there still remains here something of the old idea of Yahweh as the national champion of Israel, yet it is important to note that the background of the passage is the sinfulness and unworthiness of the nation (cf. vv. 1—15), and God’s purpose is said to be that of establishing "justice" (15, RSV) and extending His righteous rule throughout the earth (19). (The reader may be interested to see how the same image is used in the Book of Wisdom, in the Apocrypha, 5:17—20).
In Ephesians 6:10-20 the Christian warrior is summoned to join in the same battle, taking God’s armor upon himself—"the breastplate of righteousness" (v. 14), the girdle of "truth" (14), and "the sword of the Spirit" (17). At the beginning of the passage it is made clear that the conflict is no sudden or temporary emergency, but an unceasing warfare which must be constantly waged against the unseen powers of darkness (vv. 11f). The terms in which the author speaks belong to the peculiar world view of his own time which thought of the present age as being under the domination of evil spirits, but the realities with which he deals are the permanent facts of human existence. We cannot afford to take evil lightly; it is like a tireless invading army which can be defeated only by ceaseless vigilance and struggle.
Jesus, in Luke 11:14—23, speaks in terms of the same world view. He also sees the world as a battleground between two kingdoms—the Kingdom of Beelzebub and the Kingdom of God. It is by "the finger of God" (v. 20) that he defeats the power of Satan, and his wonderful works of healing (14) are evidence of the growing strength of the Kingdom of God amongst men (20). In the warfare which is being waged no one can be neutral—"He that is not with me is against me" (23). So we are brought back again to the theme of the choice which every man must make— the way of life or the way of death, service in the army of God or in that of His enemy.
The final selection (II Tim. 2:3f) may be taken as a personal appeal to every man to do daily battle against the spiritual enemy who attacks from within, and when occasion requires, to stand manfully against the evil forces at work in society without. "Rise up, 0 men of God!" "Fight the good fight." "Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ."
Hosea 4:1—6; Deuteronomy 6:4—9, 20—24; Psalm 119:17—24;
Religion is frequently defined in the Bible as "the knowledge of God." It is true, of course, that knowledge in this sense means not mere intellectual understanding but personal acquaintance with a Person. This cannot be emphasized too strongly. But it is also true that "the knowledge of God" includes what we call intellectual knowledge. While men must know God from direct personal experience, they must also endeavor to learn about Him—to gain some understanding of His nature and His ways. Such knowledge can be acquired only by serious effort and intellectual discipline. Biblical religion is not anti-intellectual; since the mind is the gift of God which above all distinguishes man from the lower animals, it must above all other faculties be dedicated to God’s service. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, aud with all thy mind" (Matt. 22:37).
The chief complaint which the prophet Hosea (4:1—6) had to make about the people of his day was that they had no knowledge of God (vv. 1, 6). While he certainly meant by this that they had no personal sense of God’s nearness and power, he also meant quite simply that they did not know God’s laws, which forbade "swearing, and lying, and stealing, and committing adultery (2)." Because the priests and prophets had failed in their primary responsibility to instruct the people, they are singled out for special condemnation (4—6), but the punishment is to fall alike on every member of a nation which had become intellectually obtuse and spiritually ignorant (3).
The Book of Deuteronomy is commonly believed to be the product of a great movement for religious education and moral revival which took form in Israel in the 7th century B.C. Its basic principles were the unity of God (6:4) and His demand for total allegiance (v. 5). It is with Deuteronomy that the idea of "the Bible"—that is, of a book which bears authoritative witness to God’s laws and mighty acts—really begins. So it is not surprising to find that the idea of reading and studying God’s Law runs through it as a constant theme (6:6—9) and that the religious instruction of children is treated as a basic obligation (20—24). Verses 2:1—24 contain a kind of fundamental creed of ancient Hebrew religion which was to be memorized and expounded.
The whole of Psalm 119, which comes from a much later period than Deuteronomy, is concerned with the study of the written Law of God and the profit which it brings. Verses 17—24 are typical of the rest. The words "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law" (18) can still serve as an excellent introductory prayer for the study of the Scriptures or any related subject. Verse 24 gives evidence that, for the devout Jew, the study of the Law was not a burden, but a source of pleasure and satisfaction (cf. vv. 97, 103). Undoubtedly the affinity which the modern Jew exhibits for intellectual pursuits, even in the secular field, owes a great deal to the emphasis upon the study of God’s Word which was so important an element in the biblical and rabbinical tradition.
When we turn to the New Testament we see how our Lord conformed to this pattern from the beginning. There is no more charming picture in the Gospels than the one of the boy Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41—52) seeking out the learned men of his people "both hearing them and asking them questions" (v. 46). His own marvelous facility in the use of Scripture during his later ministry is—humanly speaking—not so much evidence of the perfection of his divine nature as of the devotion which he paid, in his human nature, to the regular study of God’s Word and the unfolding of its deepest meaning. Notable examples of his command of Scripture are given in the traditional tales of the Temptation (Luke 4:4, 8, 12), of his first sermon at Nazareth (vv. 17—22), the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:17, 21, 27, 33, etc.) and the story of the walk to Emmaus (Luke 24:27).
The intellectual traditions of ancient Israel were continued in the early Christian Church, though of course with a certain shift of emphasis. The modern Christian often has difficulty in following the closely knit arguments of the New Testament epistles because the authors were writing to congregations whom they could presume to be familiar with even the more recondite passages of the Old Testament and who were able to appreciate involved interpretations and novel combinations of texts. It is evident from Acts 17:1 of that Christians were sometimes drawn from the most studious groups in Israel and brought their habits of study with them to enrich the life of the Church.
In II Timothy 3:14—17 the recipient of the letter is reminded of the fortunate circumstance that from a child he had received instruction in the Scriptures ‘which are able to make thee wise" and how necessary it was for him to continue on the path which he had then begun. Verse 16 is the classical New Testament passage on the authority of the Bible and the permanent, practical value of studying it. ‘‘The man of God’’ who wishes to be ‘‘complete, equipped for every good work’’ (v. 17 RSV) must not only subjugate his will and discipline his emotions, but must also learn to make full use of his mind to learn, through study of the Scripture (and also, of course, such related subjects as church history and doctrine) the things which belong to his peace.
I Kings 8:22—30; Psalm 141:1—4; Daniel 6:4—17; Luke 11:1—13
That prayer is one of the basic activities of the religious man is a proposition which hardly needs to be proved. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, takes it for granted that—along with almsgiving (Matt. 6:2) and fasting (v. 16)—prayer (5) will always be one of the chief ways in which his disciples express their faith. This had been true in the Old Israel and would continue to be so in the New. What is novel in Christianity is not prayer itself, but the new spirit which animates it and the new conviction which sustains it.
Prayer may be defined very simply as "speaking with God." It may take many forms, but none of them is essential. Whenever the human heart turns consciously to God—in petition, confession, thanksgiving, adoration, questioning, or any other mood—that is prayer. Seen in this fashion, prayer is a privilege rather than a duty. Only the half-convinced will think of it as a burdensome obligation; for those who take their religion seriously, faith can offer no greater comfort than the assurance that God is not deaf but always receptive to the prayers of His children, and is, indeed, "always more ready to hear than [they] to pray."
Among the great prayers of the Bible few are more impressive than the one attributed to Solomon at the dedication of the temple (I Kings 8:22—53). It is not, of course, a literal transcript of Solomon’s words, but rather a composition of much later time placed by the author upon the king’s lips as appropriate for so solemn an occasion. This in no way detracts from its value, since it still remains a fine illustration of the Old Testament ideal of prayer. The opening section (vv. 22—30), with which alone we are concerned here, is a petition for the security of the nation and the Davidic dynasty (24—26). It begins, like all great prayers, with an impressive characterization of the God addressed (23), includes a meditation on His attributes (27), and intercession for others (30). The paragraph concludes (30) with the simple word "forgive," illustrating the principle that the purpose of all true prayer is not so much to obtain a gift as to establish a right and harmonious relationship with God.
Psalm 141:1—4 is an Old Testament example of a more personal and informal type of prayer. Vv. 5—10 are corrupt and difficult, but show that the author was in danger from enemies and was anxious to be delivered from a trap which they had set. Nevertheless, he was also aware of his own frailties and asks for God’s help to rise above them (3f). Particularly striking is his comparison of his own ascending prayers to the incense which rose to God from the altar of the temple (2), a comparison which is echoed in Revelation 5:8.
The story of Daniel (Dan. 6:4—17) illustrates the importance of regularity in prayer ("three times a day," v. 10) and the courage which its practice sometimes demands. His heroic fidelity, typical of the Maccabean martyrs, stands in striking contrast to the lethargic devotional spirit so common in normal times.
Luke i 1 : 1—13 contains two of Jesus’ instructions on the nature and rationale of prayer. There is first the model prayer which he taught his disciples (vv. 1—4), here given in more original form (see RSV) than in Ivlatthew 6:9—13. It falls into three well-defined parts: prayer for the coming of God’s kingdom (2), for men’s physical needs (3) and for their spiritual well-being (4). By way of comment it may be noted that the "hallowing of God’s name" and the "doing of His will on earth" are simply different expressions for the coming of His kingdom; that the prayer for daily bread is based upon a similar petition in Proverbs 30:8; and that the prayer for forgiveness is given a characteristically Christian emphasis by making it conditional on the forgiving spirit of the petitioner.
The second part of this discourse (5—13) urges upon the Christian disciple the need for persistence in prayer. God is not, of course, like the surly householder of vv. 5—8 except in the sense that, with Him also, perseverance in the face of discouragement ultimately brings results. God’s real counterpart on earth is not the somewhat humorous figure of the ill-natured friend, but rather the typical human father, who hears the requests of his children and gives them what they need (11—13). This is especially true when they are wise enough to ask for the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit (13).
St. Paul, in I Thessalonians 5:16—18, speaks of the necessity of being always in a prayerful state of mind. One cannot say prayers "without ceasing," but he can learn to have his mind habitually turned in God’s direction.
The last selection (Jas. 5:13—16) shows the importance of both individual and group prayer in the life of the early Church, especially in the ministry to the sick. It gives an attractive picture of a Christian congregation united in mutual support by the prayers of all its members.
In the opening paragraph we said that Christian prayer is characterized by a new spirit and sustained by a new conviction. The new spirit is one of simple trust in the accessibility of God; the new conviction, of which the new spirit is the fruit, is that Jesus Christ has opened "a new and living way" into the presence of God. Indeed, lie is himself the way. As the Christian comes to God the Father only by Christ and lives his life in Christ, so his prayer must always be addressed to God "through Jesus Christ our Lord" John 14:6).
Genesis 45:1--11; Isaiah 26:1—4; Psalm 31:1—8; Luke 23:44—46;
St. Paul, in a famous passage (I Cor. 13:13), says that there are three abiding qualities which mark the life of Christians: faith, hope and love. They are not, of course, qualities of New Testament men alone, but characterize the life of biblical man throughout the whole of the Scriptures. In the light of God’s perfect revelation in Christ each of the words takes on a new depth of meaning, but the essential pattern of life which they describe is the same in all parts of the Bible.
The most basic of these qualities is that of faith, for where there is no faith there can be no hope and, without faith, love can be little more than emotional attraction or a desperate clinging together like children lost in the dark. In other connections we have already examined the passages on faith which are of primary theological importance (Gen. 15:6; Hab. 2:4; Rom. 3:28; parts of Heb. 11). Here we are not concerned so much with faith in relation to biblical doctrine as with its significance as an indispensable ingredient in the character of biblical man. It is the quality which, above all others, distinguishes the life of the great men of the Bible from that of their pagan contemporaries or their only half-committed fellow-religionists.
It should be said at the outset that faith, in the Bible, always has two aspects: it means, on the one hand, faith in God, and, on the other, faith fulness to duty. The "faithful" man is one who believes whole-heartedly in the love and overruling purposes of God; but he is also one who can be trusted to discharge faithfully the tasks which are given him. Although these two aspects of faith can be distinguished logically, they are really inseparable, the second being an outgrowth of the first. In so far as faithfulness is not mere native stubbornness, men are faithful because they have faith in the ultimate meaningfulness of the things they are doing.
In Hebrews 11:22 Joseph is singled out as one of the great heroes of faith (although the instance cited there may seem rather trivial). In actual fact, his whole history, as related in Genesis 37—50, is a saga of triumphant faith. We use the word "saga" advisedly since the story, as it now stands, is probably more a construction of the creative imagination than literal history. That is not really important, for the story was composed, like the parables of Jesus and many other excellent tales, to illustrate the kind of life which God wishes men to live. In spite of the ill-treatment Joseph received from his brothers and his fall from wealth into slavery, lie is represented as never doubting that God meant it all for good. And because he showed himself faithful, even in the service of an unbelieving master, he was finally able to save the lives of his entire family including the brothers who had abused him. Man’s sense of the absolute trustworthiness of God has nowhere been more simply and adequately expressed than in Genesis 45:1—11 (note esp. v. 7).
The passage from the Book of Isaiah (26:1—4) brings out another of the qualities which mark the life of faith: its serenity. Perfect trust brings ‘perfect peace" (v. 3).
The prayers of Israel, like her other literature, breathe this sense of trust. Psalm 31 (vv. i—8) is a typical example. The poet was evidently in serious trouble because of the malicious plotting of his enemies (4). But he remained courageous and serene because he had faith in God. His prayer "Into thy hands I commend my spirit" (5) was to become a vehicle for expressing the faith of many generations of devout but troubled believers after him.
Our Lord’s own devotional life was set firmly within the pattern established by the Old Testament Scriptures, as is shown by his constant use of them. The most impressive instance was on the cross itself where two verses from the Psalms (22:1; 31:5) are reported to have come naturally to his lips. From the standpoint of his human consciousness the most striking characteristic of Jesus’ mind was the strong sense that his destiny was in God’s hand and that he could safely leave it there, even though the pursuit of it might lead finally to defeat and death. The last victory of his faith was won in Gethsemane (Luke 22:42) and the most perfect expression of it was the ancient prayer which he prayed as death drew near (Luke 23:44—46).
Since faith—in the biblical sense—is not merely a kind of natural emotional optimism but is based upon profound convictions about God and His work which can be put into words and communicated to others, we can speak riot only of "faith" but of "the faith": meaning, by that, the intellectual formulation of the content of faith in doctrines, creeds and confessions. Because "faith" must be grounded in the faith it is not hard to understand the insistence of the little Epistle of Jude upon the necessity of committing ourselves to the latter and "contending earnestly" for it (Jude 3, 20—21). Without solid intellectual foundations, faith can quickly degenerate into wishful thinking or cheerful sentimentality.
This discussion comes to a proper climax in the reading of the stirring appeal in Hebrews l0:35—11:1 which ends with the classic definition of faith as a readiness to order one’s life by reference to the realities of the unseen world (11:1).
Genesis 17:1—8, 15—17, 19; Romans 4:14—25; Jeremiah 32:6—15;
As used in ordinary speech the word hope is tinged with wistfulness. It suggests a yearning for the unobtainable or, at best, an expectation which may all too easily be disappointed. But in the Bible and in Christian theology hope never has this wistful quality. It is one of the sturdiest and most virile of the Christian virtues, based not upon dreams and wishful thinking but upon faith in God. Hope, in the biblical sense, is simply the extended vision which is given by faith. Faith in the God of the Bible brings with it an understanding of His ways in the past and therefore an acceptance of His promises for the future.
The man of the world, who does not share the biblical faith, necessarily lives in a narrow room, with no horizons beyond the limits of his daily experience. The most he can hope for is that tomorrow will come and be at least no worse than today. But the man of faith knows that God rules the world in accordance with an eternal plan and that his own life has a place within that plan. So, when he lifts his eyes to the future, he sees, not the next day only, but the last day, when God’s purpose will be fulfilled and His kingdom established. To live in the light of this far-extended vision is what the Bible means by living in hope. Since the Christian also believes that "in everything God works for good with those who love him" (Rom. 8:28 RSV), it follows that hope colors his view of the passing present as well as the distant future.
The two passages with which we begin present the biblical idea of hope dramatically through the experience of one of the great religious figures of the Bible, the patriarch Abraham. We have already seen how the piety of ancient Israel and the early Christian Church made Abraham a symbol of the man of perfect faith. Since faith and hope are inseparable qualities he emerges also as the man of perfect hope. The particular incident used to illustrate this quality is that of his belief in the promise which God gave him (Gen. 17: 1—8, 15—17, 19) that in spite of his great age and that of his wife, he would become "a father of many nations" (v. 5), and that the covenant which was to bring blessing to "all the families of the earth" would be established with Isaac, a son who was yet to be born (‘9).
The point which St. Paul makes in Romans 4~ 14—25 is that Abraham’s subsequent history shows that he accepted God’s word with implicit faith and ordered his life hopefully in accordance with the pledge which God had given him. In this instance Abraham’s hopefulness was based upon a specific promise which God had made; in two other famous stories told of him—his migration from the home of his ancestors (Gen. 12:1ff) and the story of the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22:2ff)—Abraham received no precise assurance as to what the outcome would be. His hope had to be based upon a general trust in the goodness and power of God. Both kinds of hope have their normal place in Christian character: on the one hand, a confident anticipation that God’s specific promises will be fulfilled, and, on the other, a hopeful attitude toward life in general, rooted in the assurance that God has prepared for those who love Him "such good things as pass man’s understanding."
The next selection (Jer. 32:6—15) is another good illustration of how hope operates in the life of a man of God—this time in the career of the prophet Jeremiah, who was not merely a symbolic figure such as Abraham may have been, but a flesh-and-blood personage like ourselves. The incident described took place during the final siege of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., when the city was about to [all. For nearly forty years the people had complacently rejected the prophet’s repeated warnings that ruin for Israel was on its way. Now that the doom was actually at hand and even the blindest could not ignore it, they went to the opposite extreme and professed to see no sign of hope for the future. Since the true prophet is always one who runs counter to tile main currents of his time, it was only natural that Jeremiah, who had spent his life announcing the approach of God’s judgment, should then dramatically proclaim his faith in God’s purpose of restoration. He purchased a piece of land, and by doing so gave public witness to the hope that was in him: ‘‘Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land" (v. 15). The whole career of Jeremiah makes it clear that his hope was not the result of any natural, temperamental optimism, but was based on certain profound convictions with regard to the nature of God and His ultimate intention to redeem His people.
The pagan, ancient or modern, can of course in no way share this hope. The "gloom of paganism" arises from its inescapable view of every human life as a day which is moving relentlessly toward the sunset as its final goal. I Thessalonians 5:2--10 expresses the sharply contrasting Christian view that sees our life as a journey toward the sunrise, even though, at times, the surrounding night may seem very dark indeed (see also Prov. 4: 18). Moreover, the night is one in which the believer has Christ the Lord as a constant companion (v. 10).
Psalm 130 sets forth the same biblical hope, in the language of personal devotion. This hope, the psalmist says, is founded upon a knowledge of God’s true nature, which is to be merciful (v. 4; where, it should be noted, "feared" means "had in reverence"). It leads the devout child of God to look toward the future—the future which a merciful God is even now creating—as expectantly as a tired watchman, after long night’s turn of duty, looks for the coming of the day (5f).
Deuteronomy 6:4—5; Leviticus 19:9—18, 33—34;
Of all the qualities which mark the Christian life, love is the most distinctive. The Old Testament has prepared the way by making love for God and man one of the essential demands of true religion; it remained for the Gospel to exalt love into the one "royal law" (Jas. 2:8) which sums up all the others and gives to the ideal of Christian character its peculiar color and fragrance.
The idea that love is a basic duty which man owes to God seems to have won its place in Israel through the great reforming movement associated with the Book of Deuteronomy. The thought occurs over and over again in that book and in the literature associated with it. The greatest passage is Deuteronomy 6:4f, which we have considered previously but is so important that we need to examine it again. These words became the fundamental creed of Judaism and are as important in the Jewish liturgy as the Apostles’ Creed in the liturgy of Christians. From the proclamation of the unity of God it draws the corollary that He demands the undivided loyalty of His worshipers. What is distinctive of Deuteronomy as compared with some other parts of the Old Testament is that this loyalty must express itself, not in terms merely of fear, enthusiasm or even obedience, but of whole-hearted love.
The law of love toward men comes from a surprising place: from the Book of Leviticus (19:9—18, 33f), which one might otherwise be tempted to consider the most unrewarding of Old Testament books. This serves as a warning against too great haste in discarding or disregarding any part of the Bible. The whole passage has to do with being generous and kindly towards one’s fellow men and concludes with the remarkable statement that a man must not hate another person even in his heart (v. 17) but must love him as sincerely and devotedly as he loves himself—not merely out of humanitarian good-will but because it is the command of the eternal God ("I am the Lord"—i8). If it be objected that the command has to do only with Jewish neighbors, the answer is to be found in vv. 33f which provides that the same rule is to be observed toward foreigners who are living in the land of Israel and have asked for the protection of Israel’s God.
The central importance of these two commands had already been noted by Jewish scholars before the Christian era, but it remained for Jesus to take them out of their original context and erect them into the two basic laws of the New Israel—two laws which are really one, since the command to love is the heart of both of them. How he did this is told by the gospels in several different ways. In Matthew (22:34—40) Jesus declares that the meaning of the entire Old Testament ("all the law and the prophets") is summarized in the law of love. But the most striking version is found in Luke 10:25—37, which tells how our Lord first of all elicited a statement of the general principle from one of his questioners (v. 27) and then went on to show that the obligation of love towards one’s neighbor cannot logically be limited to members of any racial, national or religious group (29—37). Neighborly love is required wherever there is neighborly need; and neighborly love is not mere affection and kind words but such acts of love as the situation demands.
It was St. Paul who sang most passionately the praises of Christian love (I Cor. 13). As we have already seen, faith arid hope are two of the foundation stones of Christian character. The third, he says, is love, which, in its Christian form, cannot be dissociated from them. Christian love is not geniality or natural kindliness; it is a supernatural quality which flows from faith and hope. It is not a product of healthy glands and a sense of personal well-being; it is a reflection of the love which God has for His creatures (see I John 4:19) and which includes the unlovable and sinful individual as surely as the man of personal charm or sanctity. It is because Christian love has this special quality that the King James Version translates the Greek word in this chapter by the somewhat colorless word "charity." Because of its present-day connotations this is not a satisfactory translation, but it at least serves to remind the reader that the "love" of which the apostle is speaking is something different from the sentimental love which is the subject of so many popular songs and stories.
While the story of the Good Samaritan makes it evident that love which does not express itself in action is no love at all, St. Paul makes it equally clear that objective good deeds which are not motivated by subjective love are cold and worthless in the sight of God (vv 1—3). In vv. 4—7 Paul describes the various ways in which love manifests itself. The rest of the chapter shows how faith, hope and love—but especially love—point beyond the reach of man’s daily, imperfect existence to his eternal destiny, which is to know perfectly the perfect love of God.
The part of the New Testament where love is most consistently the dominant theme is the so-called Johannine literature—the Gospel and the three epistles "of John." The passage selected from I John (4:15—21) is typical. Here God’s nature is defined as love, so to live a life filled with love is in some real sense to be filled with God (v. 16). The author assures us also that love is the secret of courageous living, since love and fear cannot exist together (18). Finally, he insists that the two great commandments are inseparable, since one cannot love God unless lie also loves his fellow man (20f).
Psalm 32:1—7; Joel 2:12—18; Leviticus 16:1—5, 20—22, 29—34;
Since man is a fallen creature, penitence is the attitude which best becomes him. No note is struck more persistently by the biblical writers than this. A proud heart and impenitent spirit are the most formidable barriers in the way of man’s approach to God and until they are broken down reconciliation between man and God is impossible. Penitence is the door one must open if lie wishes to reach God’s audience chamber. As is said so incisively in the 51st psalm, ". . . thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee," but "a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise" (vv. 16f).
The profundity of the biblical conception of penitence can be realized only when we see that it involves a total and constant reorientation of life and not merely an occasional act of repentance for specific instances of wrongdoing. In the biblical view man is not just a creature who commits sins, but a sinful creature—that is, one whose very nature is somehow estranged from God. For this reason penitence must be an ingrained habit of mind, an habitual consciousness, even when things are going well, that "the burden of our sins is intolerable." This is why the Church includes a prayer of confession in all her principal acts of worship and why no private prayer is complete without an act of penitence also.
The 32nd psalm is one of the classical biblical expressions of the meaning and importance of penitence. It begins (vv. 1f) with a statement that happiness is the fruit of forgiveness. Throughout the Bible the word "blessed," as applied to man, means simply "happy" and might best be so translated. There can be no happiness in any profound sense where men are conscious of alienation from God. Tile psalmist tells us that he had personal experience of this fact, induced apparently by physical illness (3f), and found relief from his misery only when he made sincere confession of his sins (5). It was the pilgrimage of his soul through alienation, penitence, and finally the knowledge of God’s forgiveness, which led him to the sense of peace and assurance so gratefully proclaimed in vv. 6f.
The second passage (Joel 2:12—18) is a reminder that both sin and penitence can be corporate as well as individual. We are not only sinners as individual human beings, but we live in a social environment where every relationship has been to some extent corrupted by sin; as the prophet Isaiah says, "I am a man of unclean lips amid I live in the midst of a people of unclean lips" (6:5). Every community and nation—not excepting our own— is sinful and deserves the judgment of Cool. The passage from Joel arises out of a great national emergency—in this case a plague of locusts—when the prophet called his people to an act of public supplication amid penance. Notice that lie declares the outward demonstration to be useless unless accompanied by a sincerely penitent spirit within, and that the motive which he feels should lead men to turn toward God is not the fear of His wrath but rather confidence in His love and mercy (vv. 12f.). It is primarily this sense of corporate sin which is expressed in the liturgical general confessions of the Church.
The Old Testament Observance which underlined most sharply the importance of penitence and confession was the strange ceremony of the Day of Atonement, described in Leviticus 16: 1—5, 20—22, 29—34, in which the high priest confessed the sins of the whole nation for the previous year over the head of a goat which was then supposed to be able, by the gracious providence of God, to carry them out into the desert (v. 22). The solemnity of this mysterious, primitive rite on the most important holy day of the year prevented the people of later Israel from ever forgetting the fact of sin and the need for repentance, confession and amendment. The work of the high priest on this occasion was seen by one of the New Testament writers as a foreshadowing of the priestly work of Christ (Heb. 9:6—14).
The proclamation of the Gospel, also, opens with the call to repent, both in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:1—12) and of Jesus (4:12—17). Repentance was the sole content of John’s message. When John was arrested and Jesus took up his work, the message he announced was, in the beginning, the same. Although ultimately our Lord’s teaching went far beyond any point that John did or could have reached, his first reported words are identical with John’s: "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (4:17).
The last book in the Bible contains a scathing little letter addressed to a Christian Church in Asia Minor which was conscious of no need for penitence (Rev. 3:14—19). The deep-seated, festering corruption of merely "respectable" Christians who have no sense of sin has never been more devastatingly pictured than here. The words apply directly and obviously to many in the modern world who, having made their peace with the world, imagine that they have made their peace with God. Throughout the history of the Church—both in the Old Testament and in the New—the call to repent has always been directed even more toward those who think they are righteous and need no repentance than toward those who are admittedly sinful, even in their own eyes. The prophets were concerned with those "that are at ease in Zion" (Amos 6:1); our Lord was offended at the Pharisee who thought he was not as other men are (Luke 18:11); the author of Revelation pours his scorn upon those benighted persons who do not even know that they are "poor and blind and naked" (v. 17).
Deuteronomy 8:1—10; Isaiah 51:1—3; Psalm 107:1—32;
If penitence is one of the basic qualities of the Christian life, thankfulness is possibly even more so. G. K. Chesterton once said that the principal difference between a Christian and an infidel is that the infidel takes everything in his life for granted, whereas the Christian receives even the most commonplace blessings with wonder and gratitude. It may well be argued that the foundation stone of all high religion is not, as is sometimes said, a sense of numinous awe in the presence of the unknown, but rather a feeling of gratitude toward the Author of life for His "goodness and loving-kindness." Man’s religion is less mature when he worships God through fear of what God might do than when he gratefully adores Him for what He has already done.
Thankfulness is, of course, a quality which marks the lives of individuals in the Bible, but it is even more important to note that it is a distinctive mark of the Church’s corporate, liturgical life, in both the Old Testament and the New. Our first selection is a reminder of that fact (Deut. 8:1—10). In form, this passage purports to be part of Moses’ address to the people of Israel just before they entered the Promised Land. In reality, as we have seen, it is a typical sermon for one of the great feasts of the liturgical year and its chief interest lies in die insight it gives into the character of ancient Hebrew worship. The dominant note was joyful recollection of the things God had done for His people throughout their history—how He had led them out of Egypt and through the desert (vv. 2—5), punishing them sometimes but always with a kindly purpose, teaching them their complete dependence upon Him (3), leading them at last into a good land, well-provided with everything they needed (7—10).
In the selection from Second Isaiah (Isa. 51:1—3), the great prophet of the Babylonian Exile first turns his gaze to the past and invites his readers to recall how God had once blessed Abraham, the father of them all (vv. 1f); then he directs their attention to the future and to the glories of Israel’s coming restoration (3). That age is to be marked with "joy and gladness . . . thanksgiving and the voice of melody." So the idea of thankfulness came to be associated with Israel’s thought of the future as much as it had been with her recollection of the past. The later men of Israel could appropriately have used the General Thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer, which says "We bless thee for ...the means of grace and for the hope of glory."
Within the context of Israel’s corporate thanksgivings there was also abundant opportunity for the individual to give thanks for his particular blessings. Psalm 107 (vv. 1—32) is a good example of a liturgical prayer inwhich various groups in the congregation gave public thanks to God for special evidences of His grace and mercy: 1—9 are for travelers who have safely crossed the desert (note vv. 4f); 10—16 for prisoners who have been set free; 17—22 for sick persons who have been healed; 23—32 for travelers by sea, come to safe haven after a dangerous voyage.
The familiar story in Luke 17:11—19 illustrates the carelessness about saying thanks which is so typical of the average human being. It still is true that even Christian books of devotion usually allot far more space to prayers of petition and intercession than to thanksgiving. On the occasion described by Luke, ten men were healed of leprosy, yet only one was thoughtful enough to return to Jesus and thank him for what he had done. It was particularly humiliating to pious Jews that the one thankful man was not a well-instructed member of the Jewish community, but a despised Samaritan. The story was undoubtedly preserved by the early Christian Church to remind its members of the importance of thankfulness and the constant danger that even "good Christians" may forget it.
I Timothy 4:1—5 is a warning against a certain type of heresy—not unknown in our own day—which declares that the body and all its material satisfactions are essentially evil. The author warns his readers that this is not Christian doctrine. Christians, who have a sacramental view of the material universe, see the whole world as God’s creation and everything in it as capable of being consecrated to God’s service. The author tells his readers that the principal means by which this is done is to use things in a spirit of thankfulness. "Nothing," he says, "is to be rejected if it be received with thanksgiving" (v. 4).
The Greek word (eucharistia) which is here translated "thanksgiving" is the same one which underlies the liturgical word "Eucharist." This fact is important because of the clue which it provides to the meaning of the service of Holy Communion. The basic mood of this central service of our religion is not one of gloom or morbid abasement, but of glad and grateful recollection of God’s infinite mercies, especially for those which are associated with our redemption—Christ’s ‘blessed passion and precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension" and "the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same."
Colossians 3:12—17 is an example of the summaries of the Christian virtues which occur frequently in the Pauline letters. It is instructive to see how, in a series which includes love, humility, a spirit of forgiveness, and peace, thanksgiving actually occupies the climactic place (vv. 15—17), and to note that just as the prayer of petition must be offered to God "through Jesus Christ our Lord" so also must the prayer of thanksgiving. Christians do not dare even to give thanks "to God and the Father" except "by him" (17).
Numbers 12:1—8; Isaiah 2:10—17; Zephaniah 3:9-12;
Moses is said to have been "very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth" (Num. 12:1—8, v. 3). It is a strange statement, since no one, merely reading the account of Moses’ career, would be likely to apply this particular adjective to him. Whatever words one might use to describe his character, "meek" seems curiously inappropriate for one who is credited with having boldly faced the wrath of Pharaoh, rolled back the waters of the sea, and braved the lightning and thunder of Mt. Sinai. The meekness of Moses was obviously not the cringing servility which we often associate with that word. The fact is that the meekness of Moses—and the quality of humility which is praised throughout the Bible—is not primarily a characteristic of man’s relationship to his fellow men, but rather of his relationship to God. The nature of Moses’ meekness is disclosed in vv. 7f which tell of his receptiveness to God’s word. The humility, or meekness, of which the Bible speaks is, in essence, this reverent willingness on the part of men to listen to God’s voice rather than insist that God listen to theirs.
In systems of Christian moral theology pride is always listed as the first of the seven "deadly" sins. This is an accurate reflection of the biblical point of view which sees pride as the one great and insurmountable barrier between man and God. Pride was the beginning of sin, for man was not content to be God’s creature; he wanted to be like God Himself (Gen. 3:5). Since pride was—and is—the cause of man’s alienation from God, the humbling of pride and the destruction of its monuments must be the decisive act in the establishing of God’s Kingdom. This event is nowhere described more impressively than in Isaiah 2:10—17, a fragment of a great eschatological hymn. "The cedars of Lebanon" and "the oaks of Bashan" in verse 13, "the high mountains" and "the hills" of 14 are the arrogant rulers of the earth; the "high tower," the "fortified wall," the mighty ships which go to distant Tarshish, and the ‘beautiful craft" (15f RSV) are the material objects which pride has created. The great teachers of the Bible had no doubt that the future belongs not to the haughty, but to the humble. Zephaniah 3:9—12 presents another picture of the judgment to come, but adds to Isaiah’s exclusive interest in the destruction of pride the positive promise that the humble and meek will be left in possession of the land. God says, "I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones" but "will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly" (vv. 11f RSV).
The quiet, receptive attitude of mind which marks the humble man is set forth in the simplest possible language in Psalm 131. Jesus would one day say that a person cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless he humbles himself and becomes as a little child (Matt. 18:3f). Possibly lie had this very psalm in mind, for the point it makes is the same, although it uses the language of prayer rather than of exhortation. One should remember in reading it, that, as with many other hymns and prayers, the poet is not so much boasting about a state of mind already attained as he is describing an ideal in which he believes and to which he aspires.
Psalm 37:11 gives unqualified expression to the thought that the ultimate destiny of mankind is in the hand of people such as this, for "the meek shall inherit the earth." This verse, significantly, became on the lips of Jesus the third of the "beatitudes" (Matt. 5:5). The two preceding beatitudes (vv. 3f) have essentially the same content and are addressed to the same group, for the terms used in them must be understood as primarily religious rather than social or secular. It was among devout groups of people who specially cultivated the virtues of poverty of spirit, penitence, meekness, gentleness, quietness, and receptivity to the divine word, that the message of Jesus found most ready response.
The condemnations found in Matthew 23:1—12 are directed particularly against the conventional religious leaders of Israel, who, as often happens in similar circumstances, were sometimes more impressed with their own dignity than with their opportunity to be channels of God’s love and mercy toward those placed under their charge. While humility in the biblical sense is, as we have seen, basically a matter of man’s relationship to God, it should have its natural reflex in a gentle and large-minded courtesy in dealings with men also.
St. Paul, in Romans 12:3, 16, shows from another perspective that humility has nothing to do with egregious servility. It is simply honesty in self-evaluation. It is seeing ourselves as we really are—not as gods, but men; not as supermen, but sinful men who stand in desperate need of the grace of God.
III John 9—11 is uncomfortable evidence that even in the earliest Christian churches there were occasional leaders who, like some of the Pharisees, "loved to have the preeminence" (v. 9) and by their arrogance showed that they were neither "of God" nor had ever "seen" him (11). It provides a useful warning that long membership in the Church or even the holding of a responsible position of Christian leadership does not exempt men from the necessity of self-examination and the intensive cultivation of basic Christian virtues.
I Kings 3:4—13; Proverbs 9:1—6; 10:19—21, 14:29—30;
It has been necessary previously to emphasize the supernatural origin of many of the characteristics of the Christian life, for the life of biblical man is intended to be truly a new kind of life and not merely the ordinary good life raised to a somewhat higher degree. But, important as this distinction is, it must not be pressed too far, since it is obvious that the good Christian will in many respects be like the good pagan or like the good man who makes no profession of religion at all. There are certain qualities of character which have been admired and cultivated generally by men of every race and every form of belief. The Bible teaches emphatically that the follower of the true God must, and will, possess these qualities in at least as high a degree as his non-biblical neighbor.
Collectively, these qualities are described by the Bible as "wisdom," although from another point of view wisdom might be regarded as merely the first and greatest of them. In classical theology these have been summarized as the four "cardinal" virtues: prudence (or wisdom), justice (or a sense of honesty and fair play), temperance (or modesty and self-control), and fortitude (or courage). If we think of wisdom as being not only the first of the cardinal virtues, but as a comprehensive name for all of them in the aggregate, we may define wisdom as the ability to manage one’s life in accordance with intelligence and understanding rather than by emotion and prejudice. The man of the Bible yields to none in his admiration for this kind of life. Christianity does not negate the good life of the natural man, but rather enhances and enlarges it.
Our first selection (I Kings 3:4—13) contains a popular tale told in ancient Israel about King Solomon, who—however little he may have deserved it—had the reputation of being the wisest of all her kings. It was said that at the time of his accession to the throne God gave him the choice of the gift he would most desire and he then chose wisdom rather than wealth or victory over his enemies. Little as the story may tell us about the actual historical Solomon, it shows unmistakably the high value the Hebrews placed on intelligence and the practical ability to handle difficult situations with diplomacy and skill. The story which occupies the rest of the chapter is intended to illustrate through a typical situation what the men of ancient Israel understood wisdom to consist in.
So important is the conception of wisdom in the Old Testament that a whole group of books—Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job—is simply called "the wisdom literature," though probably only the first of these deserves the name in the strictest sense of the word. The Book of Proverbs is a collection of essays and aphorisms composed by Israel’s teachers of wisdom, a special class of men who had charge of the instruction of the young and who sought to present in as appealing a fashion as possible the attractions of the quiet, thoughtful, well-ordered life. In Proverbs 9:1—6 "Wisdom" is personified as a gracious hostess inviting all men, but especially the young ("the simple" of v. 4), to partake of the feast which she has prepared in her spacious home (the "seven pillars" of v. 1 are simply indications of its size and magnificence). The other selections show some of the particular emphases of the wisdom teachers: 10: 19—21, the need for strict control over the tongue; 14:29f and 15:1, the importance of having a serene spirit; 15:13 and 15, the value of cheerfulness; and 25:61, the desirability of modesty in deportment.
To some it may seem surprising that Jesus played the role of wisdom teacher as well as that of prophet, since the cautious, prudential approach of the typical "wise man" seems so foreign to his mentality. Yet, whatever the explanation, there can be no doubt that he did so. Two episodes from Luke’s Gospel illustrate the fact. In 14:7—11 he takes the very passage we have just been reading (Prov. 25:6f) and makes it the basis of one of his discourses. It is an excellent example of the full humanity of Jesus and evidence that nothing which concerns man’s welfare was alien to his spirit.
In the second selection (Luke 16: 1—12) he chides his disciples for not being as intelligent and forethoughted about the affairs of God and His Kingdom as ordinary men are about the material affairs of life (v. 8). One can hardly suppose that Jesus approved the morality of the steward’s conduct; what he did applaud was his quickness of wit and his promptness to take action when action was needed.
The pastoral ministry of Paul constantly exhibits his remarkable capacity for dealing with difficult human situations in a wise and practical way. When, for example, some good but foolishly visionary members of the church at Thcssalonica decided to stop working at their regular jobs in anticipation of the imminent return of Christ, Paul did not react by writing them a theological essay, but by haying down the blunt rule "If any will not work, neither let him eat" (II Thess. 3:6—12). There is nothing specifically Christian about handling the problem in this way, but it is in complete accord with "sanctified common sense" and the universal judgment of the old teachers of wisdom, for whom idleness was one of the most vexatious forms of folly (see, e.g., Prov. 6:6—11; 19:15).
Yet, however closely biblical wisdom may sometimes resemble worldly prudence, it is necessarily a deeper thing because the Bible sees it as derived from God alone (Job 28:20—28) and perfectly manifested only in Jesus Christ (Col. 2:1—3). Consequently, the profoundest wisdom is accessible only to those who know and wholeheartedly accept the finished revelation of God as it is found in the Gospel.
Psalm 15; Nehemiah 5:1—13; Exodus 2:11—15; Luke 12:41—48;
The sense of justice seems to be a normal part of human nature. Whether men perfectly exemplify the ideal or not, most of them respond instinctively to appeals made to the need for honesty, fair play or just dealing. Christians can claim no monopoly on this kind of virtue and many an honest pagan can put the merely nominal Christian to shame. But what the Christian can rightly claim is that the biblical faith puts the idea of justice on a much firmer foundation since it treats it not merely as a socially valuable instinct of the natural man, but as an expression of the character of God Himself. In the Old Testament, justice is the imperious demand of a just and righteous God; in the New Testament it is a manifestation of the new relationship which has been created among men by the saving work of Jesus Christ.
While the basic law of Israel, as found in the Pentateuch, attempted to enforce just dealing in human relationships, and the prophets continually appealed to the nation’s leaders to establish justice among the classes, it is perhaps even more significant that the public liturgy set forth ethical righteousness as a formal prerequisite for the worship of Israel’s God. Psalm 15 is the classic expression of this requirement. The psalm has the form of a catechism, in which the first verse asks "Who is permitted to enter the temple and take part in its worship?" and the rest answers the question and describes the character the worshiper must exhibit. He must be truthful (2), not given to evil-minded gossip (3), must associate with men of integrity, keep his pledged word at whatever cost (4), not take interest on a loan, and not be receptive to a bribe (5).
The prohibition of interest should especially be noted, since this was one of the fundamental laws of Israel (Exod. 22:25; Lev. 25:35—37). the reason was that in a simple, noncommercial society such as ancient Israel’s, only extreme necessity would prompt a man to ask for a loan, and a just man would naturally respond to human need by a generous gift, freely offered; he would not expect to make a profit from another man’s misfortune. The selection from Nehemiah (5:1—13) shows that there were times, even in Israel, when this principle could be forgotten; but so great was the force of Israel’s traditional sense of justice that the influence of a single strong and dedicated personality such as Nehemiah’s was enough to arouse men’s consciences and make them restore their unjust gains.
The passion of the later Hebrews for justice may well have its historical source in the example and teaching of Moses. It is true, at least, that the first two incidents which tradition relates about him as a mature man (Exod. 2:11—15) show him intervening violently in the interests of fair play, once between an Egyptian and a Hebrew and a second the between two of his own people. His flight to the desert was a direct consequence of his concern for right dealing among men (v. 15).
While the parable in Luke 12:41—48 was not told primarily to teach the lesson of God’s concern for justice (it was rather a warning to be prepared for the Lord’s coming), it does reveal incidentally the profound sympathy Jesus had for the underprivileged and his dislike for those who exploit them. The portrait of the brutal supervisor who takes advantage of his employer’s absence to indulge himself and mistreat his inferiors (v. 45) is calculated to awaken disgust in the mind of the readers. The ideal servant—the "faithful and wise"—is the one who deals out fairly to each his "portion of meat in due season" (42). The Lord, when He comes, will judge justly, and—as justice requires—will deal more severely with those who have been honored by great responsibilities than with those who have but few (48).
As there were men in ancient Israel who failed to measure up to Old Testament ideals of justice, so there were those in the early Church who failed also in this basic human obligation. Paul, in I Corinthians 6:1—11, denounces a church which permitted its members to engage in lawsuits with each other. Surely in the Church of Christ, of all places, men should be able to live together in an atmosphere of fair dealing and a mutual, brotherly concern for justice! What a scandal it was in the eyes of pagans that such outrageous behavior as that mentioned in v. 8 should be found amongst Christians—those who professed to have been "washed," "sanctified" and "justified in the name of the Lord Jesus" (11). The church at Corinth was, of course, not typical of early Christian congregations, nor is such conduct very common in churches today, but the passage is a good, if somewhat unsavory, reminder that Christians are at all times expected to be more, not less, sensitive to the demands of ordinary human justice than their unbelieving neighbors.
St. Paul’s little letter to Philemon is as eloquent, though subtle, an appeal to a man’s sense of fair play as has ever been written. Onesimus, a slave owned by Philemon, had run away and finally become Paul’s servant in prison. Paul sent him back and wrote this note to beg his master not to treat him rigorously, as the law allowed, but for love’s sake (vv. 7—9) and Paul’s sake (13, 17—20), to receive him kindly and as a brother. Although, admittedly, Onesimus had done what was wrong, he had redeemed himself by his subsequent conduct (11) and was entitled not merely to cold human justice but to the higher justice which Philemon had learned in Christ (4—6).
Proverbs 15:16—17; 25:28; 30:7—9; Ecclesiastes 5:10—12; 7:16—17; Ecliesiasticus 31:12—22;
Most pagan moralists were inclined to believe that the greatest of virtues is temperance or self-control, which is also the principal source of another important group of virtues: patience, contentment and calmness of spirit. The man the pagans most admired was the one so completely master of his passions that he remained imperturbable whatever the circumstances of his life might be. the Bible, in the nature of things, cannot attribute so central an importance to temperateness and the other qualities associated with it, since the biblical ideal of human character is that of passionate devotion to God and His righteous rule. Without passion the great men of the Bible would be nothing, as is evident from the briefest consideration of the lives of the Old Testament prophets or of our Lord and his disciples.
But, granted that the passion for God is the basic element in the character of biblical man, it is also true that self-control, temperance, patience and contentment have their place. Even though there must be no attempt to limit the scope of man’s dedication to God, there still remain large areas of life in which men must have a real concern with purely secular things—their physical needs, for example, and those of their families—and in these areas the Bible calls for the same kind of temperance and self-mastery as did the great moral thinkers of the pagan world. On this level the Christian ideal of virtue is different from the pagan only in that it provides it with a securer basis. The pagan commends these virtues only on the basis of self-regarding wisdom; the men of the Bible see them as also rooted in the will of God and His generous concern for the welfare of His children.
It is naturally in the wisdom literature rather than in the prophets that we find these things emphasized. Our reading includes several brief selections from Proverbs, all of which praise the life of moderation and self-control. The first (15: 16f) speaks of how much better it is to live simply, with reverence for God (" the fear of the Lord") in one’s heart, and love as the bond of one’s family life, than to strive for wealth and luxurious living ("a stalled ox"), which so often bring only trouble and hatred. The next passage (25:28) pictures the man of uncontrolled impulses—the angry, greedy or fretful man—as being like a city whose walls are already breached and open to the enemy. The last (30:7—9) is an appealing little prayer that life’s necessities may be supplied only as required, and in moderate measure. We have previously noted that one of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer ("give us this day our daily bread") is based upon v. 8.
Ecclesiastes is the one book of the Old Testament which approaches closely the pagan idea of moderation without improving upon it. Nevertheless it contains some good common sense, as one can see from 5: 10—12, which points out how foolish it is to be anxious for wealth, since this is a desire which feeds upon itself and is never satisfied. Furthermore, wealth brings vexatious responsibilities and cannot increase one’s ability to enjoy the simple pleasures of life (12). The strangest passage in this strange book is one which advises moderation even in piety (7: 16f)! There is perhaps, even here, a useful reminder that genuine religious zeal can become perverted into the vice of bigotry or fanaticism and this has no true place in the character of a man of biblical faith.
The selection from Ecclesiasticus (in the Apocrypha) is a good example of the skill with which the wise men of the Bible used humor to re-enforce their lessons. The implied portrait of the glutton, stuffing himself with free food and then afterwards "breathing hard upon his bed" is amusing—but also disgusting (3 1:12—22).
When we turn from the wisdom literature to the teaching of Jesus (Luke 12:13—34) we find ourselves moving upon a noticeably higher plane. In the incident of the two brothers quarreling over their inheritance (vv. 13f) and in the parable of the rich man who felt that his wealth was adequate insurance against all the ills of life (16—20) we have unforgettable pictures of the ordinary unconverted man whose life is dominated by an uninhibited passion for possessions and financial security. But our Lord’s warning to his disciples is really not so much against greed and immoderate love of material things as it is against the kind of restless anxiety about the future which so often afflicts even the regenerate. Intemperate worry of any kind is wrong for the Christian, since the man of faith should know that God is always doing more for us "than either we can desire or deserve." The Christian’s journey through the world should be a calm one, untroubled by violent winds of covetousness (is) or fretful discontent (22).
This was the lesson which Paul had learned so well and expresses so beautifully in Phihippians 4:10—14. He is writing to thank his friends in Philippi for a gift which had been sent to him while in prison. He is grateful for their help and for the thought which prompted them to send it as soon as the opportunity came (v. 10); but at the same time does not want his benefactors to feel that his previous lack of comforts and necessities had made him discontented or impatient (11—13). Moved at all times by a restless zeal for Christ, he nevertheless knew the secret of self-control and could meet the crises of his private life calmly, temperately and in a spirit of deep content.
II Peter 1:2—7 contains a list of virtues such as is found in many of the New Testament epistles. The reader will notice the prominent place given to those with which we have been concerned in this discussion (v. 6).
Proverbs 28:1; Jeremiah 15:15—21; II Kings 6:8—17; Psalm 91;
The fourth of the virtues which men of biblical faith admire in common with good men of every other creed is that of fortitude, or courage. As with the other natural virtues, the Bible simply adds to it a more solid foundation, because it makes fortitude an expression of faith in God rather than evidence merely of personal strength of character. Fortitude means primarily the capacity to persevere in one’s appointed task in spite of opposition and discouragement. It may take different forms: on the one hand there is the spectacular courage which is called forth by a sudden emergency such as a hand-to-hand battle with an enemy; on the other, there is an undramatic kind of fortitude which makes it possible
for a person regularly to perform duties which are disagreeable, burdensome or even worse. In many respects the latter type is the more difficult and therefore the more to be desired and cultivated.
The Book of Proverbs (28: i) furnishes a good motto for this discussion: "The wicked flee when no man pursueth; but the righteous are as bold as a lion." To the writer of this verse there was no doubt that evil is essentially cowardly. The wicked man is self-centered; he has no great causes to which he can give himself and for which he is willing to die; his courage cannot rise above the level of petty self-interest. There is probably some over-simplification in this view, but it contains enough of truth to make it worth saying. While history knows of some intrepid criminals whose courage seems their one redeeming quality, the criminal type is, on the whole, a cowardly type—as any daily newspaper will demonstrate.
Courage, on the other hand, is one of the characteristic marks of the righteous man. He speaks up for the truth in the face of every temptation to be silent; he does not hesitate to take the unpopular side of an argument if he knows it to be right; he persists over long periods of the in unpleasant tasks if convinced that duty leads him in that direction. The prophet Jeremiah is an excellent example of this type of person. A man of natural timidity, he became strong through God’s grace, and for nearly forty years carried out a distasteful mission to announce the imminence of judgment and the necessity for repentance to a prosperous and self-satisfied people who, most of the the, merely laughed in his face. Jeremiah 15:15—21 is one of a series of remarkable passages in this book in which the prophet discloses his secret doubts and his appeals to God for help. Vv. 15—18 contain his prayer, a pathetic complaint which shows how discouraged even the boldest saint may become. Vv. 19—2 1 are the reassurance which came to him, in answer to prayer, that if he was faithful to God, God would be faithful to him, and make him "a fortified wall of bronze" (RSV).
The second passage (II Kings 6:8—17) is not, perhaps, to be understood as strictly historical, but it is at least an admirable parable of the convictions which make the righteous man "as bold as a lion." Elisha’s servant was fearful because he knew the insufficiency of the city’s human defenses (v. 15). But the prophet saw with the eyes of faith and was able to show him that as long as the two of them were on God’s side the forces "that be with us are more than they that be with them" (i6f). The courage of the man of biblical faith is always larger than that of the merely natural man because it rests upon a more accurate assessment of the resources at his disposal.
Psalm 91 is an expression, in classic devotional form, of this same conviction. The righteous man, who has committed his life to God, is sustained by invisible forces. One must, of course, beware of interpreting the poetic language too literally, for the real protection God offers is not so much against physical mishap or even major disaster as it is against permanent loss and ultimate defeat.
The story told in John 11:1—16 is a fine illustration of the simple, imitable courage which was so important an element in the human nature of Jesus. The point of vv. 9f (with which 9:4 should be compared) is that his life was too short to permit the luxury of cowardice. What was to be done was to be done immediately) without fear for the threats of enemies (v. 8). The concluding verse (16) shows how our Lord’s courageous attitude inspired an immediate and corresponding courage in his disciples.
Acts 2 1:7—14 records a similar display of courage on the part of the greatest of the followers of Jesus. When Paul arrived in Caesarea, at the end of his last "missionary journey," he was warned that he should not go up to Jerusalem because he would probably be arrested when he got there (v. ii). But neither his personal sense of danger nor the tears of his friends could stop him from making a pilgrimage which he was sure would be for the glory of Jesus’ name (13).
The most stirring statement about the fortitude of the men of God is that found in Hebrews 11:32—12:2. The passage is an almost poetically rapturous catalogue of the bold deeds of the great men and women of the past, and particularly instructive because of its insistence that faith was the source of their courage (v. 33). It concludes with an appeal to the readers to exhibit the same kind of boldness in running whatever course God may call them to run and to keep always in mind the courage and fidelity of Jesus, "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame." (12:2).
Genesis 1:27—28; 2:18—25; Deuteronomy 24:1—4; Isaiah 62:1—5;
If the Bible has many things to say about the life of individual man, it also has much to say about various areas of his collective or social life, such as marriage, the family, the state, and relations among nations. It is to these matters we must now turn our attention.
The first and most basic of all social relationships is that between the sexes. While all other human relationships might conceivably disappear, this one—together with that of the family, which flows from it—could not be lost without involving the destruction of man himself. Since religion is concerned with the whole sweep of human life, it must necessarily have a special concern with this primary relationship—the reasons for it, the spirit and the laws which should govern it, and the obligations which it should impose.
The passages which are fundamental to all the thought of the Bible on this subject are Genesis 1 :27f and 2:18—25, both of them belonging to the ancient Hebrew account of the creation of man. The details of the stories (there seem to be two) belong to the realm of folklore rather than of science, but the view of marriage which inspires them is unexpectedly profound and of universal validity. The first point to be noticed is that the Bible sees nothing shameful in the sexual relationship since God is responsible for it and commanded that it be continued (2:24); shame is the unhappy product of man’s first sin (cf. 2:25 with 3:7). The purpose of marriage, according to the Genesis accounts, is twofold. The more austere "priestly" story, which stands first in the Bible, says that it is intended for the continual propagation of the human race ("be fruitful and multiply," 1:2 8).
From a purely logical and scientific point of view, this is plainly so, and must be seriously considered in any discussion of the nature of matrimony, but it is pleasant to note that the older story, now found in Gen. 2: 18ff, saw in the institution of marriage also a kindly provision of God for alleviating the loneliness of man’s lot ("it is not good for man to be alone," 2:18). It is almost startling to realize that this story, which originated in a polygamous society, unmistakably contemplates monogamous marriage as the ideal. It tells us that God’s purpose was that one man and one woman should become one flesh, presumably forever.
The second passage (Deut. 24:1—4) ~5 an extract from the civil code of Israel (attributed at that the to Moses) which deals with the institution of marriage in an altogether different spirit. Although the ideal of Genesis no doubt held the allegiance of many high-minded people, the prevailing law dealt with marriage in a more practical way, allowing the tie to be broken, in accordance with the common law of the ancient Near East, at the will of the husband—with the one proviso that the woman’s rights must be safeguarded by providing her with legal proof of her freedom (the "bill of divorcement" of v. i).
That marriage, in spite of this somewhat pragmatic and brutal way of regulating it, was still held in highest honor in ancient Israel is shown by such a passage as Isaiah 62:1—5, in which God’s relation to his people is pictured in terms of husband and wife. During the days of the Babylonian Exile Israel had seemed like a forsaken wife, but the the would come, the prophet says, when she would be called "My delight is in her" ("Hephzibah") and her land called Married ("Beulah") (v. 4). (In verse 5 the words "thy sons" are probably a mistake and should be read "thy Builder.") The idea of God as the husband of Israel, which is also found in several other places in the Old Testament, seems to have originated with the prophet Hosea as the strange and almost miraculous outgrowth of his domestic misfortunes. It is worth noting that the inclusion of the Song of Solomon in the canon of the Old Testament was apparently due to its having been reinterpreted as celebrating in poetic form the marriage between Yahweh and Israel.
When Jesus was asked about the permissibility of divorce (Mark 10:2—12), he replied that the law in Deuteronomy was merely a temporary concession to human weakness, the true divine law of marriage being found in Genesis ("from the beginning," v. 6). Now that the Kingdom of God was drawing near in his own person, Jesus implies, men must already begin to live by its laws. What had been regarded in the Old Israel as a fine ideal must in the New Israel be translated into actual fact. The unity created by marriage was no longer to be capable of being broken at the whim of either party and any breach of it must be regarded as adultery (11f).
In contrast to the usual biblical procedure, which uses the marriage relationship to illuminate the nature of God’s relationship to His people, the passage from Ephesians (5:22—33) takes an opposite course and, with striking effect, makes of Christ’s relationship to the Church an exemplary pattern for the relationship between husband and wife. Every Christian marriage, says the writer, should ideally be a reflection of the heavenly marriage, exhibiting the same harmony of mind and sense of common purpose. It ought to exemplify the self-sacrificing love on the part of the husband (vv. 25, 28, 33) and the sense of glad and affectionate dependence on the part of the wife (2 2—24, 33) which are the principal marks of the Church’s relationship to Christ as his mystical Bride.
XXII. FAMILY LIFE
Genesis 47:5—12; Psalm 128; Proverbs 31:10-31; Ruth 1:14—22;
It is not natural for human beings to live a solitary life. The Bible tells us that God instituted marriage as the normal means by which men can escape from solitude and satisfy their hunger for companionship (Gen. 2:18). But marriage is not just an end in itself; it results usually in the creation of a new social group, the family. For the Bible, as for our race generally, the family is the basic unit of human society and provides the environment within which the life of the normal man is lived; it offers to its members comradeship, affection, security, and abundant opportunity for self-discipline and mutual support.
Every family is a complex of different, but interwoven and ideally harmonious, relationships—those of husband and wife, father and child, brother and sister— each involving its own peculiar set of privileges and responsibilities which necessarily change with the passing years. The duties of husband and wife are obviously considerably different before the arrival of children than after; the relation of child and parent is not the same when the child reaches maturity as it was in youth. But though the relationships change in character they never cease to exist, and the changes result from the operation of certain natural and unchanging laws. The family, in other words, is not a static institution, but a vital organism, pulsating with an organic life of its own.
The Bible, especially the Old Testament, offers many pictures of the family at various stages of development, and, some thes even, of dissolution. The selection from the Joseph story (Gen. 47:5—i2) is particularly instructive because it pictures the restoration of a broken family relationship by the energy, courage and self-forgetful love of one of its members. Joseph was the injured member of the family, whom his brothers had callously sold into slavery in Egypt. But, once there, he was not happy until he had brought them there also, using the political power he had won by his merits to save them from want, rather than to satisfy a natural desire for revenge. Like the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), the story of Joseph was told—at least in part—to illustrate the power of redemptive love to nourish family life and heal its discords.
According to Psalm 128, a happy family life is one of the chief blessings which come from true religion ("to fear the Lord" and "to walk in his ways," v. 1). The picture of the father with his many children gathered around him at meal the (v. 3) gives a pleasant glimpse into the joys of a simple family life, firmly anchored in the piety of the ancient Hebrew world.
One sees the nature of family life from a quite different point of view in the selection from Proverbs (31: 10— 31). This the attention is focused upon the mother, the "good wife" of v. 10 (RSV). She is by no means a mere drudge, but a responsible officer of the family (16), diligent, of course (13ff, 17ff, 27), but also charitable (20), wise and loving (26). In ancient Hebrew society as in our own, despite obvious differences of social custom, it was usually the mother who gave to the family its characteristic emotional and spiritual tone.
The good wife of Proverbs comes vividly alive in the character of Ruth, whose affectionate devotion toward the family into which she married survived even the death of her husband. There are few incidents in literature more genuinely moving than the account of Ruth’s profession of loyalty to her widowed mother-in-law (Ruth 1:14—22), followed as it was by their return to the ancestral home and her devoted effort to rebuild the shattered life of her family. The story gains added poignance from the fact that Ruth was not a Hebrew by birth, but a despised Moabitess.
The few incidents related in the gospels of Jesus’ childhood are sufficient to enable us to see the simple, idyllic nature of his own family life. In later years he never lost his love for associating with families, even though the nature of his vocation made it impossible for him to live that kind of life himself. So we see him in the home of Simon Peter (Mark 1:29ff) and, in another passage, finding special happiness in that of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38—42). The Fourth Gospel represents him as showing, even on the cross, a concern for the integrity of the family into which he was born (John 19:25ff). Knowing how necessary is the relation of parent and child for the fullest kind of life, he bequeaths his best friend to his mother to be a son in his stead.
The description of Christian family life which began in Ephesians 5:22—33 with an account of the duties of husband and wife, continues in 6:1—9 for the other members. Children are reminded that their primary obligation, as stated in one of the ten commandments (Deut. 5: 16), is to honor their parents by obeying them. But the parents likewise have an obligation not to deal harshly with their children and to train them in the fear of God (v. 4). A new element is introduced in vv. 5—9, which speak of the position of servants (i.e., slaves). In a Christian family they must be obedient, like the children, but must also be treated with the kindly justice which their master expects to receive at the hands of his own Master in heaven. The time would come, of course, when Christians would perceive that slavery in itself is inconsistent with the mind of Christ.
The little second epistle of John is ostensibly addressed to a mother and her family. This is probably just a pleasant way of writing to a church and its members, but it is significant that a congregation of Christians can be so naturally compared to an ordinary human family. The point the writer wishes to make is that Christian love is the only sound basis for corporate life; neither in the natural family nor in the parish family can there be any healthy living together until the members have learned at least in some degree to "love one another" (II John 1—6).
XXIII. THE STATE
I Samuel 8:4—20; 1 Chronicles 28:2—7; Deuteronomy 17:14—20;
Above the individual and the family stands the state. Since the state is not, of course, so basic an institution as the family, some primitive people manage to get along without it, but among civilized men it is always to be found in one form or another. Indeed, in some societies such as those of fascism or communism the state becomes so powerful that individuals, and other, lesser forms of social organization, are completely subordinated to it.
The attitude of the Old Testament toward the state is necessarily somewhat different from that of the New because of the different situation which then existed. In Old Testament times the people of God were a nation like other nations and needed, therefore, some kind of civil government. Although at first they experimented with a form of loose confederation (the rule of the "judges"), it was inevitable in the long run that they should adopt the institution of monarchy, the only practical and efficient form of government under the conditions of the ancient world. So the question of the attitude of the Old Testament toward the state really becomes a question of its attitude toward the king. Various positions are taken by different writers, but they can be easily reduced to three: negative (disapproval of kingship on principle), positive (enthusiastic approval of it as a divine institution), and mediating (a compromise which accepted monarchical rule as a practical necessity). Our three selections from the Old Testament exemplify these three different points of view.
The first (I Sam. 8:4—20) pictures the people asking for a king in order to be like other nations (vv. 5 and 19f) and Samuel indignantly protesting that to have a king is to reject God (7) as well as to expose the people unnecessarily to a useless and selfish tyranny (11—18).
The second selection (I Chron. 28:2—7) represents the other extreme view and puts expressions on the lips of David which glorify the monarchy as God’s own deliberate creation (vv. 47)—although it is notable even here that the perpetuity of the dynasty is made conditional on its fidelity to God’s Law (v. 7).
The third selection (Deut. 17:14—20) may be taken as representing the basic, considered opinion of the great men of Israel toward kingship, and therefore toward the state. For them it is a practical necessity which, one may infer, rightly commands the loyalty of its subjects. At the same time, it is not an end in itself; the king exists to serve his people, not himself (v. 16f), and is always subject to the higher law of God (18—20).
The Church in the New Testament was in a different position since it had no direct responsibility for civil government. Christians were a small group within the great body of the pagan Roman Empire. The question for them was whether or not they owed any loyalty to the actual "powers that be"—a government by unbelievers over which they had no control and of whose policies they must frequently disapprove. The answer which they gave was similar to that of Deuteronomy, at least in its practical good sense. Since civil government, whatever its form, obviously serves a socially useful function, it behooves Christians to support it, at any rate so long as it does not require them to violate the laws of God. The time would come when the Empire would ask of the Church something which it could not give; then it would resist to the death. But, until that point was reached, the good Christian had also the obligation of being a good citizen.
Although Jesus’ pronouncement about giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s (Mark 12:13—17) has been subjected to a variety of interpretations, it seems sufficiently clear that he spoke in opposition to those among his own people who advocated armed revolt as a religious duty. As long as Caesar does not arrogate to himself the things which belong to God, Jesus says, men should pay his taxes and accord him the respect which he demands.
The advice of Paul is quite unambiguous (Rom. 13:1—7). The empire, for him, is God’s arrangement for the well-ordering of society, and Christians, like others, owe it loyalty (v. 5), financial support (6), and reverence (7). Paul, himself a Roman citizen, had sufficient opportunity in his wide travels to experience the benefits of a strong and stable government. The point of view expressed in I Peter 2:13—17 is the same. The believer’s newfound liberty in Christ should not lead to social anarchy, but to a higher conception of the obligations of citizenship (v. 16).
The practical, common-sense attitude of the Bible toward the state and the responsibilities of its citizens is still the proper one and is one of the best safeguards in our culture against the excesses of the modern state in certain of its forms, particularly against the absolute and quasi-religious devotion which it some times dares to claim. There were kings in Israel, like Ahab, who claimed absolute power over the lives of their subjects, but there were always religious leaders willing to challenge them to the point of open rebellion. This is the spirit which continues to animate the prophetic thinkers of the Christian tradition and explains why massive resistance to the autocracy of the modern state often finds its most effective support among the members of the Church.
XXIV. CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY
Nahum 3:1—7 Obadiah 1, 8—14, 21; Lamentations 1:1—9;
There is nothing in the Bible so alien to the modern liberal point of view as the way in which some of the biblical writers condemn whole nations without making any apparent attempt to discriminate between the guilty and the innocent among their citizens. This is, in part, a survival of a primitive view of man which saw him primarily as the member of a group rather than as an individual; and in part the result of a genuine and permanently valid insight which recognized that no individual can completely escape responsibility for the actions of the group to which he belongs.
Most of the prophetic books of the Old Testament contain considerable sections which consist of nothing but denunciations of the enemies of Israel (e.g. Isa. 13—23, Jer. 46—51, Ezek. 25—32). Needless to say, these are not the most profitable passages of scripture for meditation and study. Yet, since they constitute so large a part of the Bible, one must at least try to understand why they are there and what enduring message they convey.
There are two small books of the Old Testament which are entirely devoted to the passionate denunciation of a particular nation. The first (in order of time) is Nahum, which is simply a long exultation over the imminent downfall of the Assyrian Empire, represented by its capital city, Nineveh (Nah. 3:1—7). Since the capture of Nineveh occurred in 612 B.C., it is easy to arrive at an approximate date for the book. For over a hundred years the people of Israel and Judah had suffered under the tyrannical and often brutal rule of the Assyrians, so it is not to be wondered at that they rejoiced when Assyria was finally destroyed by an enemy as ruthless as itself. The poem—one of the most magnificent products of Hebrew poetic genius—rises above the level of mere nationalism to the extent that it sees the doom of Nineveh as the result of her indulgence in a policy of "lies and robbery" (v. 1).
When Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 587 B.C., the Edomites, neighbors and blood-relations of the Jews, instead of helping their brother nation, actually joined with the enemy in looting and taking prisoners. The Jews never forgot this treachery, and when, a century or so later, the Edomites in turn met with national disaster, the Book of Obadiah was composed to celebrate the event 1:8—14, 21). The particulars of the indictment are given in vv. 10—14. (Once again, what is condemned is not simply enmity to Israel, but the violation of the principles of brotherhood (cf. Amos 1:11). The book concludes (21) optimistically with a glimpse of the coming Kingdom of God in which the power of malicious human governments is to be eliminated forever.
The prophetic leaders of Israel were no less ready to apply these standards of moral judgment to their own people than to foreign nations, a fact which needs always to be kept in mind. The Book of Lamentations, written during the days of agony which followed the capture of Jerusalem, gives eloquent evidence of this capacity for self-judgment (1:1—9). There is no doubt in the mind of its author that the calamity was a punishment for Israel’s sins (vv. 5 and 8), even though the magnitude of the disaster involved innocent girls (4) and young children (5). It was the nation as a whole which was corrupt, not merely her guilty leaders.
Eventually there set in a reaction against the rigorousness of this idea of corporate guilt and corporate punishment and Ezekiel was the principal proponent of a new, clearer idea of individual responsibility. The 18th chapter of his book is a kind of charter of individual rights (see vv. 1—9). When he says "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (4) he means "The person who is guilty, he, and he alone, shall be punished." This was, of course, an important corrective to the one-sidedness of the older view. But it was by no means the whole story.
It still remains true that no individual lives entirely to himself. He is bound up in the bundle of life with others, and just as he shares in the benefits of a common life, he also participates in a common burden of guilt. It is significant that, even in the New Testament, where the main emphasis is obviously on the value and responsibilities of the individual, the persecuting Roman Empire can be denounced in undiscriminating language reminiscent of the older Hebrew prophets (Rev. 17:1—6; 18:1—3; "Babylon" in these verses is merely a cryptic name for Rome; note 17:18).
If the ancient world was inclined to over-stress the idea of national and corporate guilt, it is certainly true that the modern world emphasizes too exclusively the absolute separateness of individuals. The truth lies somewhere between the extremes and the Bible contains a salutary reminder of an aspect of the truth we are much too likely to forget.
There is, of course, an important corollary to the principle of corporate guilt: the principle of corporate redemption. Without some understanding of these two related ideas, it would be difficult to make much of the Christian scheme of salvation, which sees man, involved by nature in the corporate guilt of his nation and his race, brought to newness of life by being incorporated in the mystical Body of Christ.
XXV. SOCIAL JUSTICE
Isaiah 1:10—26; Micah 3; Deuteronomy 15:7—15; 24:14—15;
The chief sin of which nations are guilty is the toleration of injustice. Human society is properly organized to protect the rights of the weak, but too frequently it becomes merely a means of perpetuating the privileges of the strong. When this happens, from the biblical point of view it falls immediately under the judgment of God.
As we have previously seen, the Bible constantly asserts that justice is one of God’s basic attributes; it regards it also as an essential mark of the godly man. But the assertion that nations must be organized to promote justice is an equally firm and fundamental element in biblical religion, particularly in the teaching of the Hebrew prophets. It is, for instance, characteristic of Amos that the opening chapters of his book show him sharpening the social conscience of Israel by directing her attention to the unjust actions of her neighbors. His audience readily agreed with him that these other nations deserved the wrath of God. Amos’ real concern, however, was with righteousness in Israel itself and the climax of his address (Amos 2:6ff) is a passionate arraignment of the people of God for their own crimes against the law of justice.
Because of the almost monotonous intensity of his concern with this subject, Amos was in a special sense the prophet of justice. But the same theme occurs in some form in most of the prophets. The opening chapter of Isaiah contains a good example (1:10—26). The prophet scathingly calls Jerusalem "Sodom and Gomorrah" (v. 10) because its inhabitants imagine the splendor of their temple worship (11—15) to be an acceptable substitute for justice to the oppressed and fatherless (16f). The familiar words of v. 18 should probably be understood as a rhetorical question: "If your sins are [in actual fact] scarlet, shall they be [in my eyes] as white as snow?" Vv. 21—24 are a lament over the city, which, polluted by injustice, is now about to receive the punishment it deserves. In the end, it is said, God by His own power will reconstitute her government and install officials after His own heart (25f).
Micah is, if anything, more violent than Isaiah (Mic. 3). He scornfully attacks Israel’s rulers, those who should be the protectors of the poor but are instead their worst enemies, and accuses them, in gruesome imagery, of oppressing their helpless subjects (vv. 1—4). The spiritual leaders, the prophets (5—7) and the priests (11), are no better, since they use their high office simply for self-aggrandizement and their religion is merely an opiate for their consciences (11). A city—or nation—whose corporate life is so deeply perverted is headed for inevitable, and irretrievable, disaster (12).
Views of this kind were not limited to a few fanatical prophets. There was a real effort in the Law of Israel to guarantee justice for the weak. This note is struck in all the law codes of the Old Testament, but most consistently in Deuteronomy, which is the closest of all to the prophetic spirit. The passages here selected (15:7—15; 24:14f) deal with three classes of people: first, the poor, whom every citizen is commanded to help (15:7—11); second, slaves of Hebrew origin, who are assured of fair and even generous treatment (12—15); and, third, the ordinary employee, the prompt payment of whose wages is made a matter of strictest obligation (24:14f). These provisions were not simply ethical ideals, but legal enactments with official sanctions behind them.
The New Testament, as we have noted, has less to say about social responsibility and national righteousness, because Christians of the New Testament age were a small group who had no control over the activities of government. Nevertheless the spirit of the Hebrew prophets is that of the New Testament also. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19—31), although told to teach another lesson, shows Jesus’ instinctive sympathy with the sick beggar who at death goes immediately into Abraham’s bosom, as against the conscienceless, self-indulgent aristocrat who goes directly to hell. The story of Zacchaeus, the Jericho tax collector (Luke 19: 1—10), illustrates the strength of Jesus’ influence for social righteousness, since it could compel even a corrupt, tough-minded public official to disgorge his unjust profits (v. 8).
The New Testament book which contains the clearest echo of prophetic teaching on social justice is the little epistle of James, as the selection given (5:1—6) illustrates. Verse 4 is a reflection of Deuteronomy 24: 14f (as well as of Lev. 19:13).
While Christians cannot hope to build God’s Kingdom of perfect justice—only God can do that—they have a powerful obligation, even under the conditions of present society, to apply its principles as effectively as possible. Christians of today are not the weak, ineffective little band of the New Testament period. While they may not have complete control over the agencies of government, they are in most Western countries the largest single group capable of exerting an effective voice in the affairs of human society. If their voice is not raised on behalf of the weak and helpless, for creating a just social order along the lines suggested by the Hebrew prophets, then they can expect only the judgment of which the prophets also spoke.
Genesis 10; 28:10-14; Zechariah 8:20—23;
Such a phrase as "international relations" is, of course, a purely modern one. Because men of the Bible never used it and did not think in terms of the problem as we formulate it today, some would argue that the Bible can have nothing to say which is really relevant. But, even though the ancient world knew nothing of "nations" in our modern sense of the term and certainly nothing of the complexities which now characterize our global common life, the underlying problem was not so different as it might seem. It was simply the problem of how the people of the world, diverse in so many ways and similar in so many others, can live together upon the earth without destroying each other. The great leaders of both the Old and the New Israel, moved by the Spirit of God, were very much concerned with this matter and the basic affirmations which they were led to make at least suggest the lines along which a solution is to be sought.
The first passage to be considered (Gen. 10) is one of those which the casual Bible reader is likely to skip over rather rapidly because at first glance it seems like nothing except a list of names. But the names are those of the various peoples of the earth as the Hebrews conceived them and the striking fact is that they are all represented as descendants of a single common ancestor, Noah. Going back even further, they are all descended from the first man, Adam. As Paul said, God has made of "one" every nation of men (Acts 17:26 RSV). This assertion of the original, physical and metaphysical, unity of the human race is obviously an important presupposition for any discussion of international relations.
If the original unity of mankind is the Bible’s first principle on this subject, God’s intention to bring about its final unity is the second. To this end, God selected one man, Abraham, and one nation, Israel, to be the agents through which His blessing and unifying grace should come to "all the families of the earth." This promise, first given to Abraham (Gen. 12:3), was repeated to successive generations, last of all to Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen. 28: 10—14).
Although this purpose was often forgotten in later times, when the "election" of Israel was interpreted in nationalistic terms, it reappears frequently with the greatest of her teachers. Zechariah, for example, sees men of all nations coming to worship the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem (Zech. 8:20-23; cf. Isa. 2:1—4; 42:6; 49:6; 56:7; 60:1f; Dan. 7:27; Zeph. 3:9; Zech. 14:16).
The most remarkable of all passages of this type is the late oracle now found in Isaiah 19:23—25, which sees the future Israel, not dominating other nations by force or even by the power of her faith, but quietly fulfilling her long-promised role as a center of blessing in the midst of the earth (v. 24 RSV), serving as a bond of unity between her ancient enemies, Egypt and Assyria, now reconciled with her and with each other and acknowledged also as God’s people and the work of His hands.
The New Testament sees the ancient promise beginning to be fulfilled in the work of Christ. When a Roman centurion comes to Jesus for help (Matt. 8:5—13), our Lord regards it as a foretaste of the time when "many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (v. 11).
In the Fourth Gospel, the climax of Jesus’ ministry is reached when "certain Greeks" express a desire to see him (John 12:20—23). Then he knows that the foundation of his work of reconciliation has been laid and the in-gathering of the nations has begun. "The hour is come."
The remainder of the New Testament takes it for granted that Christ’s work has obliterated for Christians all distinctions of nation, race or culture. This is explicitly stated in I Corinthians 12:12f (as well as in Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14; and Col. 3:11). It is true that these passages refer specifically to members of the Church, but it can hardly be doubted that Christians are also intended to see that all man-made distinctions are irrelevant in view of the original unity of the nations and God’s purpose for their final reconciliation.
The last book of the Bible opens with a hymn-like passage (Rev. 1:4—7) in praise of him who is "the prince of the kings of the earth" (v. ~5) and for whose sufferings on their behalf "all the kindreds of the earth" one day shall mourn (7). This last verse is an echo of Zech. 12:l0 with the setting significantly transferred from Israel to the Gentile nations.
While the Bible offers no ready solution to our present international problems, it does contain the presuppositions with which a Christian must face them: belief in the basic oneness of men, faith in God’s purpose finally to unite them, and assurance of Christ’s ultimate dominion over all peoples. Certainly no world order which men may create, however effective it may be in some directions, is going to he equivalent to the Kingdom of God. But this must not lead Christians into a cynical indifference to the problems of the world with which they actually have to deal. Many of the perplexing questions which burden men today are capable of solution and will be solved best by men with the mature sense of responsibility and largeness of vision which come from complete devotion to Jesus Christ as the Prince of the kings of the earth.