If we would seek the essence of Jesus' revelation, attested both by his words and his life, it was to bring a knowledge of the ineffable love of God to man, and by revealing this, to instil in the minds and hearts of men love for God, and a knowledge of and following of the ways of God. It was also then to bring a new emphasis of the Divine law of love - the love of man for man. Combined, it results, so to speak, in raising men to a higher power, to a higher life, - as individuals, as groups, as one great world group.
It is a newly sensitised attitude of mind and heart that he brought and that he endeavoured to reveal in all its matchless beauty - a following not of the traditions of men, but fidelity to one's God, whereby the Divine rule in the mind and heart assumes supremacy and, as must inevitably follow, fidelity to one's fellow-men. These are the essentials of Jesus' revelation - the fundamental forces in his own life. His every teaching, his every act, comes back to them. I believe also that all efforts to mystify the minds of men and women by later theories about him are contrary to his own expressed teaching, and in exact degree that they would seek to substitute other things for these fundamentals.
I call them fundamentals. I call them his fundamentals. What right have I to call them his fundamentals?
An occasion arose one day in the form of a direct question for Jesus to state in well-considered and clear-cut terms the essence, the gist, of his entire teachings - therefore, by his authority, the fundamentals of essential Christianity. In the midst of one of the groups that he was speaking to one day, we are told that a certain lawyer arose - an interpreter of, an authority on, the existing ecclesiastical law. The reference to him is so brief, unfortunately, that we cannot tell whether his question was to confound Jesus, as was so often the case, or whether being a liberal Jew he longed for an honest and truly helpful answer. From Jesus' remark to him, after his primary answer, we are justified in believing it was the latter.
His question was: " Master, which is the great commandment in the law? " Jesus said unto him, " Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
Here we have a wonderful statement from a wonderful source. So clear-cut is it that any wayfaring man, though a fool, cannot mistake it. Especially is this true when we couple with it this other statement of Jesus: " Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." We must never forget that Jesus was born, lived, and died a Jew, the same as all of his disciples - and they never regarded themselves in any other light. The basis of his religion was the religion of Israel. It was this he taught and expounded, now in the synagogue, now out on the hillside and by the lake-side. It was this that he tried to teach in its purity, that he tried to free from the hedges that ecclesiasticism had built around it, this that he endeavoured to raise to a still higher standard.
One cannot find the slightest reference in any of his sayings that would indicate that he looked upon himself in any other light - except the overwhelming sense that it was his mission to bring in the new dispensation by fulfilling the old, and then carrying it another great step forward, which he did in a wonderful way - both God-ward and man-ward.
We must not forget, then, that Jesus said that he did not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfil them. We must not forget, however, that before fulfilling them he had to free them. The freedom-giving, God-illumined words spoken by free God-illumined men, had, in the hands of those not God-illumined, later on become institutionalised, made into a system, a code. The people were taught that only the priests had access to God. They were the custodians of God's favour and only through the institution could any man, or any woman, have access to God. This became the sacred thing, and as the years had passed this had become so hedged about by continually added laws and observances that all the spirit of religion had become crushed, stifled, beaten to the ground.
The very scribes and Pharisees themselves, supposed to minister to the spiritual life and the welfare of the people, became enrobed in their fine millinery and arrogance, masters of the people, whose ministers they were supposed to be, as is so apt to be the case when an institution builds itself upon the free, all-embracing message of truth given by any prophet or any inspired teacher. It has occurred time and time again. Christianity knows it well. It is only by constant vigilance that religious freedom is preserved, from which alone comes any high degree of morality, or any degree of free and upward-moving life among the people.
It was on account of this shameful robbing of the people of their Divine birthright that the just soul of Jesus, abhorring both casuistry and oppression under the cloak of religion, gave utterance to that fine invective that he used on several occasions, the only times that he spoke in a condemnatory or accusing manner : " Now do ye, Pharisee, make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. . . . Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! For ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. . . . Woe unto you, lawyers! For ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered."
And here is the lesson for us. It is the spirit that must always be kept uppermost in religion. Otherwise even the revelation and the religion of Jesus could be compressed into a code, with its self-appointed instruments of interpretation, the same as the Pharisees did the Law and the Prophets that he so bitterly condemned, with a bravery so intrepid and so fearless that it finally caused his death.
No, if God is not in the human soul waiting to make Himself known to the believing, longing heart, accessible to all alike without money and without price, without any prescribed code, then the words of Jesus have not been correctly handed down to us. And then again, confirming us in the belief that a man's deepest soul relation is a matter between him and his God, are his unmistakable and explicit directions in regard to prayer.
It is so easy to substitute the secondary thing for the fundamental, the by-thing for the essential, the container for the thing itself. You will recall that symbolic act of Jesus at the last meeting, the Last Supper with his disciples, the washing of the disciples' feet by the Master. The point that is intended to be brought out in the story is, of course, the extraordinary condescension of Jesus in doing this menial service for his disciples. " The feet-washing symbolises the attitude of humble service to others. Every follower of Jesus must experience it." One of the disciples is so astonished, even taken aback by this menial service on the part of Jesus, that he says: Thou shaft never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, " If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me."