Essays on the Social Gospel


AN address which I delivered at the Evangelical-Social Congress at Darmstadt during Whitsun-week 1903 is here presented in an expanded form, with considerable alterations; and I hope the matter at issue is thereby brought into greater prominence. The subject proposed for discussion at the Congress was the relation between the moral ideas of Jesus and the development of social morality to-day. But to the Christian community at the present time it is of far greater consequence that it should first of all attain and firmly grasp the point of view without which it is impossible for these ideas of Jesus to be understood.

The purpose of the following pages is to show that the moral directions of Jesus are not complex in their demands, but require of us simply that one thing that can alone bestow upon the will singleness of aim, and produce in us a steadfast, independent attitude of mind. His words are too often used by Christians, not as means to the attainment of that free and independent will, but as regulations of unquestioned authority because they proceed from the mouth of Jesus. Yet such an application of them is actual revolt against them.

We cannot set aside as unimportant the fact that Jesus sought to lead beyond such indolent obedience those He had joined to Himself. To understand aright that aspect of His work is to see the moral consciousness of man finding in Him its consummation; and if we altogether fail to see that, we cannot experience the Person of Jesus as in any real sense the power of redemption. Such a power working in us Jesus does indeed become if, not merely receiving the doctrine as a glorious tradition, by our own experience we prove the truth of the claim He made, that in Him sinful men should find strength and peace. For this the prime essential is that this wonderful assurance of Jesus should be a fact apprehended by us ourselves in such a way that it can never be forgotten.

To Paul, and the community lie represented, it was a fact conveyed in the words of Jesus, spoken at the Last Supper. But to ourselves it can come home as a compelling fact only when the words of Jesus reveal to us that spirit which enables us to gain independence in the inward man—that is to say, true life. Unless we have found in Jesus this way to discipline and freedom within, it will be impossible that we should experience His Person as the way that guides us to the Father. Without full reverence, perfect trust cannot exist; but the access unto God that is ours through Jesus consists in an absolute confidence in Himself which means deliverance from the horrors of spiritual isolation. Unless we have had proof of this, we might, indeed, go on talking of a drama of Redemption, performed long ages ago; but we should have no right to say that He Himself is the Redeemer Whose power we now experience. Thus the preaching of the Gospel must needs become a mere lifeless repetition or spiritual incoherence, if there is increasing failure to understand Jesus in the power of His spirit, or the meaning of His law.


Source Information:
Harnack, A. a. H., Wilhelm.
Essays on the Social Gospel (iii).
Grand Rapids, MI:
Christian Classics Ethereal Library.