Project Canterbury

Religion and Politics

By Algernon Sidney Crapsey

New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1905.

Chapter IV. Jesus' Method of Government

In the year 130 of the Christian era the Jewish people throughout the world were thrown into a state of wild excitement by the glad tidings that the long-expected Messiah was come at last. He had unfolded the standard of Jehovah over the ruins of Jerusalem, and the Jews were gathering around that standard by the tens of thousands. The news of the coming of Messiah found the more eager acceptance because the affairs of the Jews were in a desperate condition. The prophecy of Jesus on the hill of Olivet, which He spake against Jerusalem, had been literally fulfilled. Looking down on the city, He is reported to have said: "For the days shall come upon thee when thine enemies shall cast up a bank about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall dash thee to the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one [78/79] stone upon another, because thou knowest not the time of thy visitation." [St. Luke, xix.: 43, 44. R. V.] These words so exactly describe the condition of Jerusalem, in the year 70, after the siege by Titus, that one cannot help feeling that the words of the evangelist, ascribed to Jesus, which were written after the fall of Jerusalem, were colored by the event itself. Jesus foresaw the doom of the city, and wept over it, but it is not likely that He foresaw that doom in all its particulars and horrors. The Jewish wars, waged at the end of the sixth decade of the first century were among the most frightful in the history of human warfare. The Jews were inspired with religious enthusiasm, and fought with the desperateness of fanatics. Every hill in Judea and Galilee became a fortress; every valley, a battle field; city after city was taken by storm and sacked by the Roman soldiery. The siege of Jerusalem lasted for years, and was attended with horrors that disgrace the name of man. Every abomination conceivable was committed within and without the city. Cannibalism, rape, and murder were among the incidents of that siege. When the city was taken by storm the Romans had to fight their way from house to house, and from [79/80] street to street. The final calamity was the burning and falling of the Temple. With the fall of Jerusalem the Jewish people were utterly prostrate under the power of the Roman. According to the estimate of the Jewish historian Josephus, 1,356,460 Jews were killed in these wars, and 101,700 were carried into captivity. [Milman, History of the Jews, vol. 2, p. 380. Murray, 1866.] For sixty years the Jews waited in sullen despair for God to avenge their wrongs and to give them back their holy city and the land of their fathers.

At the end of the sixty years the word was passed from lip to lip that the day of vengeance had come. Akiba, the wisest and holiest of the rabbins, had recognized the Messiah of God in a Jewish adventurer named Coziba, who took the name of Bar-Cochab, The Son of the Star. He claimed to be the star prophesied by Balaam. The pretentions of Bar-Cochab were admitted, first by Akiba, and then by the other Jewish rabbins, and the people at large followed the lead of the elders, and all Israel went after The Son of the Star. Another terrible war followed. More than a million Jews lost their lives or their liberty. The whole country of [80/81] Galilee and Judea was so wasted that it has not recovered to this day. What was left of Jerusalem was razed to the ground. By order of the Emperor, Hadrian, the plow was passed over the site of the city, and it was sown with salt, and a new city, dedicated to Jupiter, was built on an adjoining hill. From that day to this the Jews have been a people without a country; wandering as strangers and pilgrims from land to land. Since the failure of Bar-Cochab no one claiming to be Messiah has risen up in Israel. This brief account of the messiahship of Coziba is of value to us in these lectures because it enables us to compare his messiahship with the messiahship of Jesus. In these two histories, the history of Jesus and the history of Bar-Cochab, the contrast is perfect. Two human characters embodying two distinct conceptions of human government stand over against each other in the white light of history,--the one painted in the dark hues of the despair, the other in the glowing colors of hope; the one the cause of measureless misery, the other of infinite happiness; the one an awful failure, the other a marvelous success. I think I am safe in saying that the greater number of those who hear these words have never even heard the name of Coziba, called Bar-Cochab. [81/82] That name is known only to careful students of history. Bar-Cochab shot like a falling star through the sky of the Jewish-Roman world, followed by a trail of baleful light, and then went out into utter darkness, and his name has long since perished from the memory of man.

But who has not heard the name of Jesus. Today men and women the world over are celebrating his birthday, children are singing, bells are ringing, lights are burning,--all for joy because Jesus was born. [Lecture delivered Christmas night.] Everywhere men are asking, What did Jesus do? What did Jesus say? What did Jesus mean?--and they profess to order their lives, in thought and word and deed, in obedience to the word of Jesus, and in submission to His will. There is no conqueror in history who can compare with Jesus in the extent and duration of His conquest. He has made the little hill tribe of Judah the master people of the world; because of Jesus the folklore of the Hebrew has become the sacred history of the western world, and the heroes of Israel, the heroes of mankind. Jesus to-day has the leadership of man, and human evolution must follow the lines laid down, by the life of the Man of Nazareth.

[83] Now, if we look for the reason of the awful failure of Bar-Cochab, and the marvelous success of Jesus, we will not find that reason in what is called the supernatural. Jesus did not succeed because he was born of a virgin, or because He was reported to have risen bodily from the dead. These legends concerning Him are the result, not the cause, of the marvelous success of the man. These stories were told of Him only because the simple folk could in no other way adequately express their conception of the greatness of Jesus. Only a virgin born could be as pure as Jesus. Only a Son of God could be as great as Jesus. Only a life more powerful than death could have the strength of Jesus. The creeds of Christendom are of value, not as historical statements, for the primitive and mediaeval Christian had no historical sense, but they are of immense value as attempts on the part of ordinary men to measure the greatest personality ever born into the world. If we look for the secret of the success of Jesus and of the failure of Bar-Cochab, we shall find that Bar-Cochab was ignorant of the law that governs all real conquests in human history, and that Jesus of Nazareth was the first great moralist [83/84] to discover that law, to give it formal expression, and to apply it to human life.

Count Leon Tolstoy tells us that he was once reading the teachings of Jesus to a wise man from the east. [Quoted from memory.] The eastern sage, as he heard them, claimed one after another of the sayings of Jesus as original among his own people. But at last there was a saying of Jesus which the eastern did not claim, and which he admitted to be original with the Prophet of Nazareth. This original contribution of the Prophet of Nazareth to the moral wisdom of the world the eastern sage found in the words, "Resist not evil."

This wise man displayed all the acumen of his race when he fixed on these words as the words per se of Jesus of Nazareth, for they are the key to his gospel and to the secret of his success in the world.

Jesus enunciated this great moral discovery in the earlier and calmer years of his ministry. It was one of those truths of God which he saw with that clearness of vision which makes his words to be, not so much mere human wisdom, as divine revelation. This saying is the very keystone in the arch of that [84/85] new law which Jesus proclaimed, and by which he annulled the old law of Moses, the Jewish lawgiver. He cried: "Ye have heard that it hath been said an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; but I say unto you resist not him that is evil; but whosoever will smite thee on the right cheek turn to him the other also." [St. Matthew, v.: 38.]

Now, no words of Jesus have been such a stumbling block to modern Christians as these words; they cannot believe that Jesus meant just what he said. They reckon this among the hyperbole of the Master; as if by this exaggeration He would call attention to the necessity of moderation in the use of physical force. We are not to resent all injuries, but only such injuries as seem to us excessive and to call for retaliation. But the words of Jesus will not bear this explanation. They mean what they say, or they mean nothing; and, if they mean nothing, then the Man who uttered them is guilty of solemnly affirming foolish and dangerous nonsense; and such a man has no right to the admiration and leadership of men. To call Him Lord! Lord! and at the same time to despise the things that He [85/86] says, is to be guilty of folly far more foolish than the saying we deride.

This law is not, as some may suppose, the law of passive obedience, bidding us yield a ready submission to evil in the world. It is not a cowardly surrender to unrighteousness, a fearful cringing to wickedness in high places. It is not the teaching of a craven, who sells his soul for his safety. If such were the meaning of the words of Jesus we might well reject them as immoral and destructive of the highest interests of mankind. The doctrine of Jesus is not the doctrine of passive obedience; it is the doctrine of passive resistance. And it is this doctrine of passive resistance that is the great original doctrine that Jesus has contributed to moral science. We can best see the meaning of this saying if we interpret it by the life of Jesus Himself. Surely no one can accuse Jesus of timidity. He was not afraid to arraign the chief priests and rulers of His people at the bar of divine justice; in His short life He made more enemies than most men dare make in a long lifetime. And these enemies were bitter in their hatred,--so bitter that nothing but the destruction of Jesus would satisfy them. And Jesus knew the danger of His course of action. [86/87] He was not as a child playing with matches in a powder magazine, ignorant of his peril. He knew that He could escape only by submission, and He would not submit for one single instant. His whole life was not a life of obedience, but of rebellion against existing conditions and established authorities.

Jesus was in opposition from the beginning to the end of His days. And it is with His method of warfare that this saying, "Resist not evil," has to do-- do not resist evil with evil. Do not resist physical force with physical force. Do not meet calumny with calumny, nor vituperation with vituperation. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good, meet calumny with silence and vituperation with kind words. Jesus would carry no sword or spear; He wore no helmet, nor breastplate; there were no greaves of brass upon His legs; but, for all that, Jesus was armed and protected. He was armed with the only weapons that are effectual for the settlement of disputes among men. He used the only method of warfare by which real conquests can be made. Jesus was wise enough to see that physical force can only decide physical questions. He knew as well as Bonaparte that God is always [87/88] on the side of the strongest battalions and the more skilful commander. A battle never decides any other matter except the relative strength and handling of the different armies. No moral issue is or can be settled by an appeal to the god of battles, for the god of battles knows no more of morality than the wind at sea or the ice blast on the mountain, which drowns and freezes indifferently the saint and the sinner. The questions which physical resistance could decide were not of interest to Jesus. He was not anxious to find out whether the Jew was a better fighter than the Roman, but only if he was a better man. And the method of Jesus was to pit the manhood of the Jew against the brutality of the Roman. He, the Jew, stood up alone against the whole Roman power, and dared it to do its worst, and it did its worst; but it could not hurt Jesus. He was stronger than Caesar. Caesar could kill the body of Jesus, but after that there was nothing more that Caesar could do; but when the Roman had killed Him, then Jesus could and did undermine the Empire, change institutions, and alter the courses of history. The disbelief of the ordinary man in the saying of Jesus arises from his disbelief in the moral and spiritual life. If a man believes that [88/89] after he is dead he can do nothing, why, of course, he will look upon death as the greatest calamity, and will seek to defend his physical life with all the forces at his command. But if a man be convinced that his real life lies in his soul, that physical death is simply an incident, and that by physical death he may acquire the greater influence and more extensive power,--then physical death will be chosen as the way to victory. Jesus based His doctrine of resist not evil upon the further doctrine that evil is limited in its power and operation. It can do so much and no more. And the surest, and, indeed, the only, way to defeat evil is to let it alone; it will rage and spend itself, and then it will be over and done with. Jesus's method of warfare is to fight evil, not by active resistance, but by passive endurance. He was ready, not to kill, but, if need were, to be killed. And the Christian world has, in doctrine, admitted the wisdom of the method of Jesus by rinding in His death the salvation of mankind. It is true that the theologians have obscured the meaning of the death of Jesus by asserting that He died to satisfy the justice--that is, the vengeance--of God; but this whole idea of taking vengeance is utterly foreign to the teaching of the Master. To [89/90] visit evil with evil is the one thing that He says should never be done either by gods or men. His death did not satisfy the vengeance of God, for there was no god of vengeance to be satisfied. But His death did shame the wickedness of man. It showed the brute in all his brutality, the hypocrite in all his hypocrisy, the traitor in his treachery, and the coward in his cowardice. The death of Jesus was a manifestation of the power of the human soul, pure and simple, to withstand all the forces that can be brought against it. A man's soul is his impregnable fortress. Let him contain himself in that, and he is secure against all adversaries.

Jesus's method of passive resistance is by far the most economical of life and treasure of any mode of warfare that man can adopt. We have seen how the active resistance of the Jews to the Roman power lead to the death of millions and to the misery of millions more. While the Jews were resisting actively, the Christians were resisting passively. The wickedness of the Roman power was far more hateful to the Christian than to the Jew. The Christian would not recognize the validity of that power by so much as casting a grain of incense upon an altar. But the Christian did not wish to kill the [90/91] Roman; he wished to convert him; and so he manifested his hostility to the Roman system, not by fighting the Roman, but by preaching to the Roman that his system was evil, and, if he wished to escape from that evil, he must turn from the worship of Caesar to the worship of Christ. And when the Roman was angry with him the Christian suffered the full consequence of that anger, and in so suffering revealed to the Roman a moral greatness which turned the anger of the Roman into admiration, love, and worship. And the loss of life in this warfare of the Christian against the Roman was as nothing when compared with the loss of the Jews. More Jewish lives were lost in the one year of Co-ziba's insurrection, than Christian lives were lost in the three centuries of Christian persecution. And there was this radical difference,--every Jew who died in arms made an enemy for the Jews. Every Christian who died unarmed made a friend for the Christians. So that it became a saying that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. The history of Jesus and the history of the establishment of Christianity give experimental proof of the soundness of His doctrine.

The method of Jesus is not only economical, but [91/92] it is effective. If you wish to subdue a man to your will so that he may be your slave, you cannot do it by killing him, for a dead man is no man's servant. You cannot do it by chaining him, for a man in chains has all he can do to carry his shackles. The only way to subdue a man is to win him. If you want him for your very own you must conquer something beside his hands and his feet; you must storm the citadel of his heart, and, instead of making him fear to disobey, you must make him love to obey. Now you can never make a dog love you by beating him; still less a man. In all God's universe it is the law that like begets like,--hate breeds hatred, and loving wins love. And Jesus, in the sublimity of His spiritual genius, gave expression by word and life to these very simple axiomatic principles, and by so doing put the world in the way of salvation.

As long as men hate one another and kill one another, so long will this world be a hell, and those who live in it, will not live at all, but all their days will be misery and death.

I do not think anyone can look at the present condition of so-called Christendom without a feeling of pity for the foolishness of man and of [92/93] compassion for what must be the shame of Jesus at the conduct of His so-called followers. Here is all Christendom one vast armed camp, spending millions of lives and wasting billions of treasure getting ready to resist evil. And lo and behold all this vast waste of life and treasure is spent to oppose a phantom. The only evil which the nations have to resist is the evil which these armaments themselves create. If the nations were disarmed the nations would have nothing to fear. If any country in the world to-day were to disarm, and to announce to the world that it did so in the cause of peace that, respecting the rights of others, it would fear injury from none, what do you suppose would happen to that country. Its instant destruction by its more warlike neighbors? Not at all. That nation, especially if it were a strong nation, would instantly attract to itself the whole peace sentiment of the world. It would be like the monastery in the middle ages; it would gather into itself the moral force of mankind, and, like the monastery, it would in the end rule the world. For the monastery as well as the primitive church interpreted the words of Jesus literally. After the fall of the western empire in the fifth century Europe was overrun by [93/94] Barbarians from the north, whose two occupations were drinking and fighting. Every tribe was at war with its neighbor; every man's hand was against every man. In those days men lived in castles and wore chain armor. But in the midst of this universal warfare there were certain men who did not resist evil. They built their homes in the forest. Their gates were open day and night to welcome the stranger. If their enemy hungered, they fed him. If he thirsted, they gave him drink. If they were killed, they died praying for their murderers. They were sheep in the midst of wolves, and their destruction seemed inevitable. But what happened? Why, the monastery became the center of order; the nursery of civilization in Europe. Out of the monastery came the rulers of Europe. Hildebrand, the monk, was more powerful than Henry, the war lord. All the great warriors of the middle age were the servants of the monks. Charlemagne received his Empire from the monastic church. Frederick Barborossa humbled himself at the feet of the monks, and Henry IV. of Germany stood three days, barefooted in the snow, humbly suing for the pardon of a monk. If there were no other instance in history, the monastery would settle forever the [94/95] question as to the relative potency of physical and moral force. The moral is always the greater.

The ancient law of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, is still in a large measure the law of human life as interpreted by the state. A man steals a loaf of bread to satisfy his hunger, and the state steals his liberty to satisfy its vengeance. A man kills another man in the heat of passion, or under great temptation, and the state kills him in cold blood, and without any temptation at all. And it is commonly believed that the doctrine, "Resist not evil," if applied to social life, would throw society back into anarchy. And yet criminology teaches us that severity toward criminals simply increases crime. In the good old times when robbers were broken on the wheel, and thieves were burned at the stake, robbers thronged every forest and beset every highway, while thieves and cut-throats lurked in every lane and alley of the city. As severity toward crime has lessened, the number of criminals and crimes has decreased. If we wish to put an end to crime we must in some way put an end to criminals. But you do not put an end to criminals by putting them in prison or by killing them. If you put a criminal in prison, you make him more of [95/96] a criminal than ever. Prisons are schools of crime, from which men graduate after a longer or shorter period of education to prey upon society. Nor do you put an end to a criminal by killing him. A dead criminal is still a criminal. When the state solemnly executes a man it gives eternal significance to his crime. It can never be changed, but must remain forever a blot on human history. The vengeance of the state falls on innocent and guilty alike. The father and the mother, the wife and the children, must bear the shame of the crime forever. The only way to put an end to a criminal is to make him an honest man. You must in some way reach his soul, and stir within that soul the desire to do good. And, if you would have a man do good you must be good to him; you must reach his soul as Dinah Morris reached the poor soul of Hetty Sorel, the child murderer,--reached it not by accusation and severity, but by laying her cheek against the cheek of the hardened sinner until at last the love of Dinah thawed the heart of Hetty. So that heart wept tears of penitence; and Hetty was no longer a criminal, but a sorrowful, heart-broken woman. Victor Hugo was not a mere romancer; he was a [96/97] profound psychologist; when he told the story of the good bishop and Jean Val Jean. Resist not evil, is the maxim of the good bishop. Jean Val Jean, the convict from the galleys, abuses the holy man's hospitality by stealing his silver spoons. He is arrested and brought back to the Episcopal residence. The bishop lies and says to the officer that he had given the spoons to the man, and upbraids Jean Val Jean because he had forgotten to take the silver candle sticks as well. Does this act of the bishop make Jean Val Jean more or less a criminal. You know the story. From that instant the soul of Jean Val Jean was transformed. He became so great that the injustice of society could not crush him. The victim of that injustice, he triumphed over it by the greatness of his soul.

If society were to practice the doctrine of Jesus, of St. Francis of Assisi, and of Victor Hugo, we should soon have no need for our jails and our gallows. If we were always ready to forgive the sinner, we should have no need for further punishment--but forgiveness would bring him to penitence, and penitence to reformation. [Asylums, not prisons, will mark the next stage in criminal jurisprudence.]

[98] To practice the precept of Jesus is not easy, because it requires the love of Jesus for men, and the patience of Jesus with men. Jesus's love for men was so great that it consumed at once any feeling of resentment against them. He pitied and prayed for His murderers in the moment of His own agony and death. Jesus's patience with men was so unlimited that He was willing to wait for ages if only so He could win the heart of man to His way of thinking and feeling. Coziba, called Bar-Cochab, would overthrow the Roman power in a day; Jesus worked three hundred years to accomplish the same result. Coziba would conquer Rome by force of arms; Jesus by force of love. Coziba would destroy; Jesus would assimilate. Coziba's work was done when Coziba died; Jesus's real work did not begin until the day after His death. Coziba and his tribe are men of the past; Jesus is the man of the future. Let those of us who still believe in Jesus take heart. Evolution is on our side. Slowly, but surely, the world is coming round to Jesus's way of thinking. Formerly men gloried in warfare; now they apologize for it. In old time men went out to kill and to spoil their enemies; now they go with battleship and army to civilize them. If we kill the [98/99] Filipino or the Boer, we do it only for their good. And we are more or less ashamed of ourselves, because we can find no better way to elevate them than the way of violence and treachery. We are ashamed of our slums, of our jails and our gibbets; and with shame will come sorrow, and with sorrow a better mind; and by and by we shall agree with Jesus that the only way to conquer our enemy is to make him our friend; the only way to overcome evil is to overcome evil with good. When that day comes, as it surely will, then we shall hear again the angels singing, "Peace on earth; good will toward men."

And, if we choose, that day can come to us tonight. To-night we can be Jesus men; men who will suffer evil, but never do it.

Project Canterbury