ETHICS, III [ISBE]
- III. Principles and Characteristics of Biblical Ethics.
The sketch of the history of ethics just offered, brief as it necessarily is, may serve to indicate the ideas which have shaped modern thought and helped toward the interpretation of the Christian view of life which claims to be the fulfillment of all human attempts to explain the highest good. We now enter upon the third division of our subject which embraces a discussion generally of Biblical ethics, dealing first with the ethics of the Old Testament and next with the leading ideas of the New Testament.
1. Ethics of the Old Testament:
The gospel of Christ stands in the closest relation with Hebrew religion, and revelation in the New Testament fulfils and completes the promise given in the Old Testament. We have seen that the thinkers of Greece and Rome have contributed much to Christendom, and have helped to interpret Bible teaching with regard to truth and duty; but there is no such inward relation between them as that which connects Christian ethics with Old Testament morality. Christ himself, and still more the apostle Paul, assumed as a substratum of his teaching the revelation which had been granted to the Jews. The moral and religious doctrines which were comprehended under the designation of "the Law" formed for them, as Paul said (Gal 3:24,25), a paidagogos, or servant whose function it was to lead them to the school of Christ. In estimating the special character of Old Testament ethics, we are not concerned with questions as to authenticity and dates of the various books, nor with the manifold problems raised by modern Biblical criticism. While not forgetting the very long period which these books cover, involving changes of belief and life and embracing successive stages of political society, it is possible to regard the Old Testament simply as a body of writings which represent the successive ethical ideas of the Hebrews as a people.
(1) Religious Characteristics of Hebrew Ethics.
At the outset we are impressed by the fact that the moral ideal of Judaism was distinctly religious. The moral obligations were conceived as Divine commands and the moral law as a revelation of the Divine will. The religion was monotheistic. At first Yahweh may have been regarded merely as a tribal Deity, but gradually this restricted view gave place to a wider conception of God as the God of all men; and as such He was presented by the later prophets. God was for the Jew the supreme source and author of the moral law, and throughout his history duty was embodied in the Divine will. Early in the Pentateuch the note of law is struck, and the fundamental elements of Jewish morality are embedded in the story of Eden and the Fall. God's commandment is the criterion and measure of man's obedience. Evil which has its source and head in a hostile though subsidiary power consists in violation of Yahweh's will.
(a) The Decalogue:
First among the various stages of Old Testament ethic must be mentioned the Mosaic legislation centering in the Decalogue (Ex 20; Dt 5). Whether the Ten Commandments issue from the time of Moses, or are a later summary of duty, they hold a supreme and formative place in the moral teaching of the Old Testament. All, including even the 4th, are purely moral enactments. But they are largely negative, only the 5th rising to positive duty. They are also chiefly external, regulative of outward conduct, forbidding acts but not taking note of intent and desire. The 6th and 7th commandments protect the rights of persons, while the 8th guards outward property. Though these laws may be shown to have their roots and sanctions in the moral consciousness of mankind and as such are applicable to all times and all men, it is clear that they were at first conceived by the Israelites to be restricted in their scope and practice to their own tribes.
(b) Civil Laws:
A further factor in the ethical education of Israel arose from the civil laws of the land. The Book of the Covenant (Ex 20 through 23), as revealing a certain advance in political legislation and jurisprudence, may be regarded as of this kind. Still the hard legal law of retaliation--"an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth"--discloses a barbarous conception of right. But along with the more primitive enactments of revenge and stern justice there are not wanting provisions of a kindlier nature, such as the law of release, the protection of the fugitive, the arrangements for the gleaner and the institution of the Year of Jubilee.
(c) Ceremonial Laws:
Closely connected with the civil laws must be mentioned the ceremonial laws as an element in the moral life of Israel. If the civil laws had reference to the relation of man to his fellows, the ceremonial laws referred rather to the relation of man to God. The prevailing idea with regard to God, next to that of sovereign might, was holiness or separateness. The so-called Priestly Code, consisting of a number of ceremonial enactments, gradually took its place alongside of the Mosaic law, and was established to guard the being of God and the persons of the worshippers from profanation. These had to do (a) with sacrifices and offerings and forms of ritual which, while they typified and preshadowed the ideas of spiritual sanctity, often degenerated into superstitious practices (compare Am 5:25,26; Hos 6:6; Isa 1:11-13); (b) commands and prohibitions with regard to personal deportment--"meats and drinks and divers washings." Some of these had a sanitary significance; others guarded the habits of daily life from heathen defilement.
The dominant factor of Old Testament ethics lay in the influence of the prophets. They and not the priests were the great moralists of Israel. They are the champions of righteousness and integrity in political life, not less than of purity in the individual. They are the witnesses for God and the ruthless denouncers of all idolatry and defection from Him. They comment upon the social vices to which a more developed people is liable. They preach a social gospel and condemn wrongs done by man to man. Government and people are summoned to instant amendment and before the nation is held up a lofty ideal. The prophets are not only the, preachers, but also the philosophers of the people, and they direct men's minds to the spiritual and ideal side of things, inveighing against worldliness and materialism.
Under their reflection, theories as to the origin and nature of evil begin to emerge, and the solemnity and worth of life are emphasized. While on the one hand the sense of individual responsibility is dwelt upon, on the other the idea of a hereditary taint of soul is developed, and it is shown that the consequences of sin may affect even the innocent. A man may inherit suffering and incur penalties, not apparently through any fault of his own, but simply by reason of his place in the solidarity of the race. Problems like these awaken deep perplexity which finds a voice not only in the Prophets but also in the Book of Job and in many of the Psalms. The solution is sought in the thought that God works through evil, and by its effects evolves man's highest good. These conceptions reach their climax in the Second Isa, and particularly in chapter 53. God is constantly represented as longing to pardon and reinstate man in His favor; and the inadequacy of mere ceremonial as well as the failure of all material means of intercourse with Yahweh are repeatedly dwelt upon as preparing the way for the doctrine of salvation. In the Book of Pss--the devotional manual of the people reflecting the moral and religious life of the nation at various stages of its development--the same exalted character of God as a God of righteousness and holiness, hating evil and jealous for devotion, the same profound scorn of sin and the same high vocation of man are prevalent.
(e) Books of Wisdom:
Without dwelling at length on the ethical ideas of the other writings of the Old Testament--the Books of Wisdom, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes--we may remark that the teaching is addressed more to individuals than prophecy is; while not being particularly lofty it is healthy and practical, shrewd, homely common sense. While the motives appealed to are not always the highest and have regard frequently to earthly prosperity and worldly policy, it must not be overlooked that moral practice is also frequently allied with the fear of God, and the fight choice of wisdom is represented as the dictate of piety not less than of prudence.
It is to the sapiential books (canonical and apocryphal) that we owe the most significant ethical figures of the Old Testament--the wise man and the fool. The wise man is he who orders his life in accordance with the laws of God. The fool is the self-willed man, whose life, lacking principle, fails of success. The nature of wisdom lies not in intellectual knowledge so much as in the control of passion and the prudent regulation of desire. The idea of human wisdom is connected in these books with the sublime conception of Divine wisdom which colors both them and the Psalms. In some of the finest passages, Wisdom is personified as the counselor of God in the creation of the world (Prov 8; The Wisdom of Solomon 10; Job 28), or the guide which guards the destinies of man (The Wisdom of Solomon 10:15 ff).
If the sapiential books are utilitarian in tone the Book of Ecclesiastes is pessimistic. The writer is impressed with the futility of life. Neither pursuit of knowledge nor indulgence in pleasure affords satisfaction. All is vanity. Yet there is an element of submission in this book which only escapes despair by a grim and stolid inculcation of obedience to Divine command.
(f) Apocryphal Books:
In an article on the Ethics of the Bible some allusion ought to be made to the spirit of the apocryphal books, reflecting as they do the ideas of a considerable period of Jewish history immediately before and contemporaneous with the advent of Christ. While in general there is a distinct recognition of true moral life and a high regard for the moral law, there is no system of ethics nor even a prevailing ethical principle in these books. The collection presents the ideas of no one man or party, or even of one period or locality. The moral ideas of each book require to be considered separately (see special articles), and they ought to be studied in connection with the philosophy of Philo and generally with the speculation of Alexandria, upon which they exercised considerable influence. The Wisdom of Solomon is supposed by Pfieiderer and others to have affected the Hellenic complexion of Paul's thought and also to have colored the stoic philosophy.
The apocryphal books as a whole do not give prominence to the idea of an ancient covenant and are not dominated by the notion of a redemptive climax to which the other Old Testament books bear witness. As a consequence their moral teaching lacks the spirituality of the Old Testament; and there is an insistence upon outward works rather than inward disposition as essential to righteousness. While wisdom and justice are commended, there is a certain self-satisfaction and pride in one's own virtue, together with, on the part of the few select spirits which attain to virtue, a corresponding disparagement of and even contempt for the folly of the many. In Sirach especially this tone of self-righteous complacency is observable. There is a manifest lack of humility and sense of sin, while the attainment of happiness is represented as the direct result of personal virtue (Sirach 14:14 ff).
The Book of The Wisdom of Solomon shows traces of neo-Platonic influences and recognizes the four Platonic virtues (8:7) and while admitting the corruption of all men (9:12 ff) attributes the causes of evil to other sources than the will, maintaining the Greek dualism of body and soul and the inherent evil of the physical nature of man. The Book of Judith presents in narrative form a highly questionable morality. On the whole it must be recognized that the moral teaching of the Apocrypha is much below the best teaching of the Old Testament. While Sirach gives expression to a true piety, it manifests its want of depth in its treatment of sin and in the inculcation of merely prudential motives to goodness. In general the essence of love is unknown, and the moral temper is far inferior to the ethics of Jesus. It is a mundane morality that is preached. Hope is absent and righteousness is rewarded by long life and prosperity (Tobit). Legalism is the chief characteristic (Baruch), and Pharisaic ceremonialism on the one hand, and Sadducaic rationalism on the other are the natural and historical consequences of apocryphal teachings.
(2) Limitations of Old Testament Ethics.
In estimating the ethics of the Old Testament as a whole the fact must not be forgotten that it was preparatory, a stage in the progressive revelation of God's will. We are not surprised, therefore, that, judged by the absolute standard of the New Testament, the morality of the Old Testament comes short in some particulars. Both in intent and extent, in spirit and in scope, it is lacking.
(a) As to intent:
The tendency to dwell upon the sufficiency of external acts rather than the necessity of inward disposition, may be remarked; though as time went on, particularly in the later Prophets and some of the Psalms, the need of inward purity is insisted upon. While the ideal both for the nation and the individual is an exalted one--"Be ye holy for I am holy"--the aspect in which the character of God is represented is sometimes stern if not repellent (Ex 24; Nu 14:18; Gen 18; 2 Sam 24:17). But at the same time there are not wanting more tender features (Isa 1:17; Mic 6:8), and the Divine Fatherhood finds frequent expression. Even though the penal code is severe and the ceremonial law stern, a gentler spirit shines through many of its provisions, and protection is afforded to the wage-earner, the poor and the dependent, while the regulations regarding slaves and foreigners and even lower animals are merciful (Dt 24:14,15; Jer 22:13,17; Mal 3:5; Dt 25:4).
Again we have already remarked that the motives to which the Old Testament appeals are often mercenary and material. Material prosperity plays an important part as an inducement to moral conduct, and the good which the pious patriarch contemplates is earthly plenty, something which will enrich himself and his family. At the same time we must not forget that the revelation of God's purpose is progressive, and His dealing with men educative. There is naturally therefore a certain accommodation of the Divine law to the various stages of moral apprehension of the Jewish people, and on the human side a growing sense of the meaning of life as well as an advancing appreciation of the nature of righteousness. Gradually the nation is being carried forward by the promise of material benefits to the spiritual blessings which they enshrine. If even in the messages of the prophets there is not wanting some measure of threats and penalties, we must remember the character of the people they were dealing with--a people wayward and stubborn, whose imaginations could scarcely rise above the material and the temporal. We must judge prophecy by its best, and we shall see that these penalties and rewards which undoubtedly occupy a prominent place in Old Testament ethics were but goads to spur the apathetic. They were not ends in themselves, nor mere arbitrary promises or threats, but instruments subservient to higher ideals.
(b) As to extent:
With regard to the extent or application of the Hebrew ideal it must be acknowledged that here also Old Testament ethics is imperfect as compared with the universality of Christianity. God is represented as the God of Israel and not as the God of all men. It is true that a prominent commandment given to Israel is that which our Lord endorsed: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Lev 19:18). The extent of the obligation, however, would seem to be restricted in the language immediately preceding it: "Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people." It has been pointed out that the term rea` is of wider signification than the English word "neighbor," and expresses the idea of friend, and is applied to any person. The wider rendering is enforced by the fact that in Lev 19:33,14 the word "stranger" or "foreigner" is substituted for neighbor. The stranger is thus regarded as the special client of God and is commended to look to Him for protection. However this may be, in practice at least the Jews were not faithful to the humanitarianism of their law, and generally, in keeping with other races of antiquity, showed a tendency to restrict Divine favor within the limits of their own land and to maintain an attitude throughout their history of aloofness and repellent isolation toward foreigners. At the same time the obligation of hospitality was regarded as sacred and was practiced in early Hebrew life (Gen 18:1-9). Nor must we forget that whatever may have been the Jewish custom the promise enshrined in their revelation implies the unity of mankind (Gen 19:3), while several of the prophecies and Psalms look forward to a world-wide blessing (Isa 61; Ps 22:27; 48:2,10; 87). In Isa 54 we even read, "God of the whole earth shall he be called." "Everything," it has been said, "is definitely stated except the equality of all men in God's love." The morality of bare justice is also in some measure transcended. The universal Fatherhood of God, if not clearly stated, is implied in many passages, and in Second Isa and Hos there are most tender revelations of Divine mercy though it is mercy to Israel only. But we know that the apostle Paul drew the inference from God's treatment of Israel that His mercy and salvation would extend to all.
2. Outline of New Testament Ethics:
We are now prepared to indicate briefly the distinctive features of the ethics of Christianity. As this article is, however, professedly introductory, and as the ethics of Jesus forms the subject of a separate treatment (see ETHICS OF JESUS), it will not be necessary to offer an elaborate statement of the subject. It will be sufficient to suggest the formative principles and main characteristics. What we have to say may conveniently be divided under three heads: (1) the Christian ideal; (2) the dynamic power; (3) the virtues, duties and spheres of Christian activity.
(1) Ethics of Jesus and Paul.
Before, however, entering upon these details, a few words may fittingly be said upon the relation of the ethics of Jesus to those of Paul. It has been recently alleged that a marked contrast is perceptible between the teaching of Jesus and that of Paul, and that there is a great gulf fixed between the Gospels and the Epistles. Jesus is a moralist, Paul a theologian. The Master is concerned with the conditions of life and conduct; the disciple is occupied with the elaboration of dogma. This view seems to us to be greatly exaggerated. No one can read the Epistles without perceiving the ethical character of a large portion of their teaching and noticing how even the great theological principles which Paul enunciates have a profound moral import. Nor does it seem to us that there is any radical difference in the ethical teaching of Christ and that of the Apostle.
Both lay emphasis on character, and the great words of Christ are the great words of Paul. The inmost spring of the new life of love is the same for both. The great object of the Pauline dialectic is to place man emptied of self in a condition of receptiveness before God. But this idea, fundamental in Paul, is fundamental also in the teaching of Jesus. It is the very first law of the kingdom. With it the Sermon on the Mount begins: "Blessed are the poor in spirit." If we analyze this great saying it surely yields the whole principle of the Pauline argument and the living heart of the Pauline religion. In perfect agreement with this is the fundamental importance assigned both by Jesus and Paul to faith. With both it is something more than mental assent or even implicit confidence in providence. It is the spiritual vision in man of the ideal, the inspiration of life, the principle of conduct.
(3) Inwardness of Motive.
Again the distinctive note of Christ's ethic is the inwardness of the moral law as distinguished from the externality of the cereMonial law. Almost in identical terms Paul insists upon the need of inward purity, the purity of the inner man of the heart. Once more both lay emphasis upon the fulfillment of our duties to our fellow-men, and both are at one in declaring that man owes to others an even greater debt than duty. Christ's principle is, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself"; Paul's injunction is "Owe no man anything but to love one another." Christ transforms morality from a routine into a life; and with Paul also goodness ceases to be a thing of outward rule and becomes the spontaneous energy of the soul. For both all virtues are but the various expressions of a single vital principle. "Love is the fulfilling of the law." The dynamic of devotion according to Christ is, "God's love toward us"; according to Paul, "The love of Christ constraineth us."
Ideal of Life:
And if we turn from the motive and spring of service to the purpose of life, again we find substantial agreement: "Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect" is the standard of Christ; to attain to the perfect life--"the prize of the high calling of God in Christ"--is the aim of Paul.
(4) Ultimate End.
Nor do they differ in their conception of the ultimate good of the world. Christ's ethical ideal, which He worked for as the realization of the object of His mission, was a redeemed humanity, a reestablishment of human society, which He designated "the kingdom of God." Paul with his splendid conception of humanity sees that kingdom typified and realized in the Risen Life of his Lord. It is by growing up in all things unto Him who is the Head that the whole body will be perfected in the perfection of its members. And this is what Paul means when he sums up the goal and ideal of all human faith and endeavor--"till we all attain .... unto a fullgrown man, unto .... the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:13). Paul everywhere acknowledges himself to be a pupil of the Master and a teacher of His ways (1 Cor 4:17). Without pursuing this subject there can be no doubt that in their hidden depths and in their practical life the precepts of the apostle are in essential agreement with those of the Sermon on the Mount, and have a dommon purpose--the presenting of every man perfect before God (compare Alexander, Ethics of Paul).
3. The Ethical Ideal:
The ethical ideal of the New Testament is thus indicated. The chief business of ethics is to answer the question, What is man's supreme good? For what should a man live? What, in short, is the ideal of life? A careful study of the New Testament discloses three main statements implied in what Christ designates "the kingdom of God": man's highest good consists generally in doing God's will and more particularly in the attainment of likeness to Christ and in the realization of human brotherhood--a relation to God, to Christ and to man. The first is the pure white light of the ideal; the second is the ideal realized in the one perfect life which is viewed as standard or norm; the third is the progressive realization of the ideal in the life of humanity which is the sphere of the new life.
Holiness as the fulfillment of the Divine will is, as we have seen, Christ's own ideal--Be ye perfect as your Father; and it is Paul's--This also we wish, even your perfection (2 Cor 13:11). The ideas of righteousness and holiness as the attributes of God are the features of the kingdom of God or of heaven, the realization of which Jesus continually set forth as the highest aim of man; and running through all the epistles of Paul the constant refrain is that ye might walk worthy of God who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory. To walk worthy of God, to fulfill His will in all sincerity and purity, is for the Christian as for the Jew the end of all morality. Life has a supreme worth and sacredness because God is its end. To be a man is to fulfill in his own person God's idea of humanity. Before every man, just because he is man with the touch of the Divine hand upon him and his Maker's end to serve, lies this ultimate goal of existence--the realization of the perfect life-according to the idea of God.
If Godlikeness or holiness is the end, Christlikeness is the norm or standard in which that end is presented in the Gospel. In Christianity God is revealed to us through Jesus Christ, and the abstract impersonal ideas of holiness and righteousness are transmuted into the features of a living personality whose spirit is to be reproduced in the lives of men. In two different ways Christ is presented in the New Testament as ideal. He is at once the Pattern and the Principle or Power of the new life.
(a) He is the Pattern of goodness which is to be reproduced in human lives. It would lead us to trench on the succeeding article if we were to attempt here a portrayal of the character of Jesus as it is revealed in the Gospels. We only note that it is characteristic of the New Testament writers that they do not content themselves with imaginative descriptions of goodness, but present a living ideal in the historical person of Jesus Christ.
(b) He is also Principle of the new life--not example only, but power--the inspiration and cause of life to all who believe (Eph 1:19,20). Paul says not, "Be like Christ," but "Have the mind in you which was also in Christ." The literal imitation of an example has but a limited reign. To be a Christian is not the mechanical work of a copyist. Kant goes the length of saying that "imitation finds no place in all morality" (Metaphysics of Ethics, section ii). Certainly the imitation of Christ as a test of conduct covers a quite inadequate conception of the intimate and vital relation Christ bears to humanity. "It is not to copy after Him," says Schultz (Grundriss d. evangelischen Ethik, 5), "but to let His life take form in us, to receive His spirit and make it effective, which is the moral task of the Christian." It is as its motive and creative power that Paul presents Him. "Let Christ be born in you." We could not even imitate Christ if He were not already within us. He is our example only because He is something more, the principle of the new life, the higher and diviner self of every man. "He is our life"; "Christ in us the hope of glory."
(3) Brotherhood and Unity of Man.
The emphasis hitherto has been laid on the perfection of the individual. But both Christ and His apostles imply that the individual is not to be perfected alone. No man finds himself till he finds his duties. The single soul is completed only in the brotherhood of the race. The social element is implied in Christ's idea of the Kingdom, and many of the apostolic precepts refer not to individuals but to humanity as an organic whole. The church is Christ's body of which individuals are the members, necessary to one another and deriving their life from the head. The gospel is social as well as individual, and the goal is the kingdom of God, the brotherhood of man. Paul proclaims the unity and equality before God of Greek and Roman, bond and free.
4. The Dynamic Power of the New Life:
In the dynamic power of the new life we reach the central and distinguishing feature of Christian ethics. Imposing as was the ethic of Greece, it simply hangs in the air. Plato's ideal state remains a theory only. Aristotle's "virtuous man" exists only in the mind of his creator. Nor was the Stoic more successful in making his philosophy a thing of actuality. Beautiful as these old-time ideals were, they lacked impelling force, the power to change dreams into realities. The problems which baffled Greek philosophy it is the glory of Christianity to have solved. Christian ethics is not a theory. The good has been manifested in a life. The Word was made flesh. It was a new creative force--a spirit given and received, to be worked out and realized in the actual life of common men.
(1) The Dynamic on Its Divine Side.
The problem with Paul was, How can man achieve that good which has been embodied in the life and example of Jesus Christ? Without entering into the details of this question it may be said at once that the originality of the gospel lies in this, that it not only reveals the good but discloses the power which makes the good possible in the hitherto unattempted derivation of the new life from a new birth under the influence of the Spirit of God. Following his Master, when Paul speaks of the new ethical state of believers he represents it as a renewal or rebirth of the Holy Spirit. It is an act of Divine creative power.
Without following out the Pauline argument we may say he connects the working of the Holy Spirit with two facts in the life of Christ, for him the most important in history--the death and resurrection of our Lord. Here we are in the region of dogmatics, and it does not concern us to present a theory of the atonement. All we have to do with is the fact that between man and the new life lies sin, which must be overcome and removed, both in the form of guilt and power, before reconciliation with God can be effected. The deed which alone meets the case is the sacrifice of Christ. In virtue of what Christ has achieved by His death a fundamentally new relationship exists. God and man are now in full moral accord and vital union.
But not less important as a factor in creating the new life is the resurrection. It is the seal and crown of the sacrifice. It was the certainty that He had risen that gave to Christ's death its sacrificial value. "If Christ be not risen ye are yet in your sins." The new creature is the work of Christ. But His creative power is not an external influence. It is an inner spirit of life. All that makes life life indeed--an exalted, harmonious and completed existence--is derived from the Holy Spirit through the working of the crucified risen Christ.
(2) The Dynamic on Its Human Side.
Possession of power implies obligation to use it. The force is given; it has to be appropriated. The spirit of Christ is not offered to free a man from the duties and endeavors of the moral life. Man is not simply the passive recipient of the Divine energy. He has to make it his own and work it out by an act of free resolution. When we inquire what constitutes the subjective or human element, we find in the New Testament two actions which belong to the soul entering upon the new world in Christ--repentance and faith. These are complementary and constitute what is commonly called conversion. Repentance in the New Testament is a turning away in sorrow and contrition from a life of sin and a breaking with evil under the influence of Christ. If repentance looks back and forsakes, faith looks forward and accepts. In general it is the outgoing of the whole man toward his Lord, the human power or energy by which the individual receives and makes his own the life in Christ. It is not merely intellectual acceptance or moral trust; it is above all appropriating energy. It is the power of a new obedience. As the principle of moral appropriation it has its root in personal trust and its fruit in Christian service. Faith, in short, is the characteristic attitude and action of the whole Christian personality in its relation to the spiritual good offered to it in Christ.
5. Virtues, Duties and Spheres of the New Life:
It but remains to indicate how this new power manifests itself in character and in practical conduct. Character is expressed in virtue, and duty is conditioned by station and relationships.
(1) The Virtues.
The systematic enumeration of the virtues is one of the most difficult tasks of ethics. Neither in ancient nor in modern times has complete success attended attempts at classification. Plato's list is too meager. Aristotle's lacks system and is marred by omission. Nowhere in Scripture is there offered a complete description of all the virtues that flow from faith. But by bringing Christ's words and the apostolic precepts together we have a rich and suggestive cluster (Mt 5; 6; Gal 5:22,23; Col 3:12,13; Phil 4:8; 1 Pet 2:18,19; 4:7,8; 2 Pet 15-8; 1 Jn 3; Jude). We may make a threefold classification:
(a) The Heroic Virtues:
The heroic virtues, sometimes called the cardinal, handed down from antiquity--wisdom, fortitude, temperance, justice. While these were accepted and dwelt upon, Christianity profoundly modified their character so that they became largely new creations. "The old moral currency was still kept in circulation, but it was gradually minted anew" (Strong).
(b) The Amiable Virtues:
The amiable virtues, which are not merely added on to the pagan, but being incorporated with them, give an entirely new meaning to those already in vogue. While Plato lays stress on the intellectual or heroic features of character, Christianity brings to the foreground the gentler virtues. Two reasons may have induced the Christian writers to dwell more on the self-effacing side of character: partly as a protest against the spirit of militarism and the worship of material power prevalent in the ancient world; and chiefly because the gentler self-sacrificing virtues more truly expressed the spirit of Christ. The one element in character which makes it beautiful and effective and Christlike is love--the element of sacrifice. Love evinces itself in humility which lays low all vaunting ambition and proud selfsufficiency. Closely allied to humility are meekhess and its sister, long-suffering--the attitude of the Christian in the presence of trial and wrong. With these again are connected contentment and patience and forbearance, gentle and kindly consideration for others. Lastly there is the virtue of forgiveness. For it is not enough to be humble and meek; we have a duty toward wrongdoers. We must be ready to forget and forgive (Rom 12:20). "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you" (Eph 4:32).
(c) The Theological Virtues:
The theological virtues or Christian graces-faith, hope, charity. Some have been content to see in these three graces the summary of Christian excellence. They are fundamental in Christ's teaching and the apostolic combination of them may have had its basis in some lost word of the Master (Harnack). These graces cannot be separated. They are all of a piece. He who has faith has also love, and he who has faith and love cannot be devoid of hope. Love is the first and last word of apostolic Christianity. No term is more expressive of the spirit of Christ. Love was practically unknown in the ancient world. Pre-Christian philosophy exalted the intellect but left the heart cold. Love in the highest sense is the discovery and creation of the gospel, and it was reserved for the followers of Jesus to teach men the meaning of charity and to find in it the law of freedom. It is indispensable to true Christian character. Without it no profession of faith or practice of good deeds has any value (1 Cor 13). It is the fruitful source of all else that is beautiful in conduct. Faith itself works through love and finds in its activity its outlet and exercise. If character is formed by faith it lives in love. And the same may be said of hope. It is a particular form of faith which looks forward to a life that is to be perfectly developed and completed in the future. Hope is faith turned to the future--a vision inspired and sustained by love.
(2) The Duties.
Of the duties of the Christian life it is enough to say that they find their activity in the threefold relationship of the Christian to self, to his fellow-men and to God. This distinction is not of course quite logical. The one involves the other. Self-love implies love of others, and all duty may be regarded as duty to God. The individual and society are so inextricably bound together in the kingdom of love that neither can reach its goal without the other.
(a) Duties Toward Self:
Duties toward self are, however, plainly recognized in the New Testament. our Lord's commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," makes a rightly conceived self-love the measure of love to one's neighbor. But the duties of self-regard are only lightly touched upon, and while the truth that the soul has an inalienable worth is insisted upon, to be constantly occupied with the thought of oneself is a symptom of morbid egoism and not a sign of healthy personality. But the chief reason why the New Testament does not enlarge upon the duty of self-culture is that according to the spirit of the gospel the true realization of self is identical with self-sacrifice. Only as a man loses his life does he find it. Not by anxiously standing guard over one's soul but by dedicating it freely to the good of others does one realize one's true self.
At the same time several self-respecting duties are recognized, of which mention may be made: (i) stability of purpose or singleness of aim; (ii) independence of other's opinion; (iii) supremacy of conscience and a proper self-estimate. In this connection may be noticed also the Christian's proper regard for the body which, as the temple of God, is not to be despised but presented as a living sacrifice; his attitude to worldly goods; his obligation to work; his right to recreation; and his contentment with his station--all of which duties are to be interpreted by the apostolic principle, "Use the world as not abusing it." The Christian ideal is not asceticism or denial for its own sake. Each must make the best of himself and the most of life's trust. All the faculties, possessions, pursuits and joys of life are to be used as vehicles of spiritual service, instruments which make a man a fit subject of the kingdom of God to which he belongs.
(b) Duties in Relation to Others:
Duties in relation to others, or brotherly love, are defined as to their extent and limit by the Christian's relation to Christ. Their chief manifestations are: (i) justice, involving respect for others, negatively refraining from injury and positively yielding deference and honor, truthfulness, in word and deed, "speaking the truth in love," just judgment, avoiding censoriousness and intolerance; (ii) kindness or goodness, embracing sympathy, service and practical beneficence which provides for physical need, administers comfort and gives, by example and direct instruction, edification; (iii) patience, comprising forbearance, peaceableness.
(c) Duties in Relation to God:
Here morality runs up into religion and duty passes into love. Love rests on knowledge of God as revealed in Christ, and expresses itself in devotion. Love to God is expressed generally in (i) thankfulness, (ii) humility, (iii) trustfulness; and particularly in worship (sacraments and prayers), and in witness-bearing--adorning the doctrine by beauty of life.
(3) Spheres and Relationships.
Of the various spheres and relationships in which the Christian finds opportunity for the exercise and cultivation of his spiritual life we can only name, without enlarging upon them, the family, the state and the church. Each of these spheres demands its own special duties and involves its own peculiar discipline. While parents owe to their children care and godly nurture, children owe their parents obedience. The attitude of the individual to the state and of the state to the individual are inferences which may be legitimately drawn from New Testament teaching. It is the function of the state not merely to administer iustice but to create and foster those agencies and institutions which work for the amelioration of the lot and the development of the weal of its citizens, securing for each full liberty to make the best of his life. On the other hand it is the duty of the individual to realize his civic obligations as a member of the social organism. The state makes its will dominant through the voice of the people, and as the individuals are so the commonwealth will be.
Absoluteness, Inwardness and Universality.
In closing we may say that the three dominant notes of Christian ethics are, its absoluteness, its inwardness and its universality. The gospel claims to be supreme in life and morals. For the Christian no incident of experience is secular and no duty insignificant, because all things belong to God and all life is dominated by the Spirit of Christ. The uniqueness and originality of the ethics of Christianity are to be sought, however, not so much in the range of its practical application as in the unfolding of an ideal which is at once the power and pattern of the new life. That ideal is Christ in whom the perfect life is disclosed and through whom the power for its realization is communicated. Life is a force, and character is a growth which takes its rise in and expands from a hidden seed. Hence, in Christian ethics all apathy, passivity and inaction, which occupy an important place in the moral systems of Buddhism, Stoicism, and even medieval Catholicism, play no part. On the contrary all is life, energy and unceasing endeavor.
There are many details of modern social life with which the New Testament does not deal: problems of presentday ethics and economics which cannot be decided by a direct reference to chapter and verse, either of the Gospels or Epistles. But Paul's great principles of human solidarity; of equality in Christ; of freedom of service and love; his teachings concerning the church and the kingdom of God, the family and the state; his precepts with regard to personal purity, the use of wealth and the duty of work, contained the germs of the subsequent renewal of Europe and still contain the potency of social and political transformation.
General Works on Ethics:
Lotze, Paulsen, Wundt, Green, Sidgwick, Stephen, Dewey and Tufts, Palmer, Bowne, Mezer; Harris, Moral Evolution; Dubois; Randall, Theory of Good and Evil; Calderwood, Handbook of Moral Philosophy; Muirhead, Elementary Ethics; Sutherland, Origin and Growth of Moral Instinct; Simmel, Einleitung in die Moralwissenschaft; Givycky, Moralphilosophic; Guyot, La morale; Janet, Theory Morals (translation); Mackenzie, Manual of Ethics; Eucken, works generally; Hensel, Hauptproblem der Ethik; Lipps, Die ethischen Grundfragen; Natorp, Socialpadagogik; Schuppe, Grundzuge der Ethik u. Rechtsphilosophie; Schwarz, Das sittliche Leben; Wentscher, Ethik.
See Histories of Philosophy; Zeller, Erdmann, Windelband, Maurice, Turner, Weber, Rogers, Alexander; Jodl, Geschichte der Ethik in der neueren Philosophic.
Works on Theological or Christian Ethics
Old Testament: Dillmann, Baudissin, Bertmann, Geschichte der christlichen Sitte; Konig, Hauptprobleme der Altes Testament Religions-Geschichte; Delitzsch, Riehm, Kuenen; Mozley, Ruling Ideas in Early Ages; Hessey, Moral Difficulties in the Bible; Moore, in Lux mundi; Ladd, Doctrine of Sacred Scripture; Robertson, Early Religion of Israel; Caillard, Progressive Revelation; Schultz, Old Testament Theology (English translation); Bruce, Ethics of the Old Testament; N. Smyth, Christian Ethics; Startton; Strong.
New Testament and Christianity:
Martinsen, Wuttke, Schletermacher, Rothe, Dorner, H. Weiss, Harlen, Hofmann, Frank, Luthardt, Beck, Kiibel, Kahler, Pfieiderer, Schultz, Kostlin; Herrmann, Faith and Morals; Communion of the Christian with God; Thomas, Jacoby, Lemme, Strong, Knight, N. Smyth; Ottley in Lux mundi and Christian Ideas and Ideals; W. L. Davidson, Christian Ethics, Guild Series; W. T. Davidson, Christian Interpretation of Life and Christian Conscience; Mackintosh; Murray, Handbook of Christian Ethics; Maurice, Social Morality; Nash, Ethics and Revelation; Dobschiitz, Christian Life in the Primitive Church; Clark, Christian Method of Ethics; Mathews, The Church and the Changing Order; Freemantle, The World as the Subject of Redemption; The Gospel in Secular Life; Sladden, Applied Christianity; Leckie, Life and Religion; Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Order; Peile, The Reproach of the Gospel; Coe, Education in Religion and Morals; Haering, The Ethics of the Christian Life (English translation); Tymms, Ancient Faith in Modern Light; Harris, God, the Creator; Bovon, Morale chretienne; Wace, Christianity and Morality; Kidd, Morality and Religion; Drummond, Via, Veritas, Vita; Hatch, Greek Ideas and the Christian Church; Matheson, Landmarks of New Testament Morality.
Works on New Testament Theology:
Also contain section on Ethics; Weiss, Holtzmann, Beyschlag; Harnack, Das Wesen, or What Is Christianity?; Stevens; Wernle, The Beginnings of Christianity; Adeney, Gould, Gardner, Bosworth, Briggs; Caird, Evolution of Religion.
Works on the Teaching of Jesus:
Especially Wendt, Bruce, Stevens, Horton, Jackson, Swete, Latham, Pastor Pastorum; Tolstoy; Julicher. See next article for the works on the Ethics of Jesus.
Special Works on Apostolic Ethics:
Ernesti, Ethik des Apostels Paulus; A. Alexander, The Ethics of Paul; Weinel, Paul; Baur, Paulinismus; Joh. Weiss, Paul and Jesus.
History of Christian Ethics:
Wuttke, Sidgwick, Ziegler, Luthardt, Thomas; Martineau, Types of Ethical Theory; Gass; Scharling, Christliche Sittenlehre; Lecky, History of European Morals; Pfleiderer.
Arch. B. D. Alexander