When we turn to Jesus' own teachings we find that his insistence was not primarily upon the saving of the soul, but upon the saving of the life for usefulness, for service, here and now, for still higher growth and unfoldment, whereby the soul might be grown to a sufficient degree that it would be worth the saving. And this is one of the great facts that is now being recognised and preached by the forward-looking men and women in our churches and by many equally religious outside of our churches.
And so all aspiring, all thinking, forward-looking men and women of our day are not interested any more in theories about, explanations of, or dogmas about Jesus. They are being won and enthralled by the wonderful personality and life of Jesus. They are being gripped by the power of his teachings. They do not want theories about God - they want God - and God is what Jesus brought - God as the moving, the predominating, the all-embracing force in the individual life. But he who finds the Kingdom of God, whose life becomes subject to the Divine rule and life within, realises at once also his true relations with the whole - with his neighbour, his fellow-men. He realises that his neighbour is not merely the man next door, the man around the corner, or even the man in the next town or city; but that his neighbour is every man and every woman in the world - because all children of the same infinite Father, all bound in the same direction, but over many different roads.
The man who has come under the influence and the domination of the Divine rule, realises that his interests lie in the same direction as the interests of all, that he cannot gain for himself any good - that is, any essential good - at the expense of the good of all; but rather that his interests, his welfare, and the interests and the welfare of all others are identical. God's rule, the Divine rule, becomes for him, therefore, the fundamental rule in the business world, the dominating rule in political life and action, the dominating rule in the law and relations of nations.
Jesus did not look with much favour upon outward form, ceremony, or with much favour upon formulated, or formal religion; and he somehow or other seemed to avoid the company of those who did. We find him almost continually down among the people, the poor, the needy, the outcast, the sinner - wherever he could be of service to the Father, that is, wherever he could be of service to the Father's children. According to the accounts he was not always as careful in regard to those with whom he associated as the more respectable ones, the more respectable classes of his day thought he should be. They remarked it many times. Jesus noticed it and remarked in turn.
We find him always where the work was to be done - friend equally of the poor and humble, and those of station - truly friend of man, teaching, helping, uplifting. And then we find him out on the mountain side - in the quiet, in communion - to keep his realisation of his oneness with the Father intact; and with this help he went down regularly to the people, trying to lift their minds and lives up to the Divine ideal that he revealed to them, that they in turn might realise their real relations one with another, that the Kingdom of God and His righteousness might grow and become the dominating law and force in the world - "Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."
It is this Kingdom idea, the Divine rule, the rule of God in all of the relations and affairs of men on earth that is gripping earnest men and women in great numbers among us to-day. Under the leadership of these thinking, God-impelled men and women, many of our churches are pushing their endeavours out into social service activities along many different lines; and the result is they are calling into their ranks many able men and women, especially younger men and women, who are intensely religious, but to whom formal, inactive religion never made any appeal.
When the Church begins actually to throw the Golden Rule onto its banner, not in theory but in actual practice, actually forgetting self in the Master's service, careless even of her own interests, her membership, she thereby calls into her ranks vast numbers of the best of the race, especially among the young, so that the actual result is a membership not only larger than she could ever hope to have otherwise, but a membership that commands such respect and that exercises such power, that she is astounded at her former stupidity in being shackled so long by the traditions of the past. A new life is engendered. There is the joy of real accomplishment.
We are in an age of great changes. Advancing knowledge necessitates changes. And may I say a word here to our Christian ministry, that splendid body of men for whom I have such supreme admiration? One of the most significant facts of our time is this widespread inclination and determination on the part of such great numbers of thinking men and women to go directly to Jesus for their information of, and their inspiration from him. The beliefs and the voice of the laymen, those in our churches and those out of our churches, must be taken into account and reckoned with. Jesus is too large and too universal a character to be longer the sole possession, the property of any organisation.
There is a splendid body of young men and young women numbering into untold thousands, who are being captured by the personality and the simple direct message of Jesus. Many of these have caught his spirit and are going off into other lines of the Master's service. They are doing effective and telling work there. Remember that when the spirit of the Christ seizes a man, it is through the channel of present-day forms and present-day terms, not in those of fifteen hundred, or sixteen hundred, or even three hundred years ago.
There is a spirit of intellectual honesty that prevents many men and women from subscribing to anything to which they cannot give their intellectual assent, as well as their moral and spiritual assent. They do not object to creeds. They know that a creed is but a statement, a statement of a man's or a woman's belief, whether it be in connection with religion, or in connection with anything else. But what they do object to is dogma, that unholy thing that lives on credulity, that is therefore destructive of the intellectual and the moral life of every man and every woman who allows it to lay its paralysing hand upon them, that can be held to if one is at all honest and given to thought, only through intellectual chicanery.
We must not forget also that God is still at work, revealing Himself more fully to mankind through modern prophets, through modern agencies. His revelation is not closed. It is still going on. The silly presumption in the statement therefore - " the truth once delivered."
It is well occasionally to call to mind these words by Robert Burns, singing free and with an untrammelled mind and soul from his heather-covered hills: