It was in this sense that Jesus combined religion and morality, and in this sense religion may be called the soul of morality, and morality the body of religion. We can thus understand how it was that Jesus could place the love of God and the love of one’s neighbour side by side; the love of one’s neighbour is the only practical proof on earth of that love of God which is strong in humility.
In thus expressing his message of the higher righteousness and the new commandment of love in these four leading thoughts, Jesus denned the sphere of the ethical in a way in which no one before him had ever defined it. But should we be threatened with doubts as to what he meant, we must steep ourselves again and again in the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. They contain his ethics and his religion, united at the root, and freed from all external and particularistic elements.
At the close of the last lecture 1 referred to the Beatitudes, and mentioned that they exhibit Jesus’ religion in a particularly impressive way. I desire to remind you of another passage which shows that Jesus recognised the practical proof of religion to consist in the exercise of neighbourly love and mercy. In one of his last discourses he spoke of the Judgment, bringing it before his hearers’ eyes in the parable of the shepherd separating the sheep from the goats. The sole principle of separation is the question of mercy. The question is raised by asking whether men gave food and drink to Jesus himself, and visited him; that is to say, it is put as a religious question. The paradox is then resolved in the sentence: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” We can have no clearer illustration of the fact that in Jesus’ view mercy was the quality on which everything turned, and that the temper in which it is exercised is the guarantee that a man’s religious position is the right one. How so? Because in exercising this virtue men are imitating God: “Be merciful, even as your Father in heaven is merciful.” He who exercises mercy exercises God’s prerogative; for God’s justice is not accomplished by keeping to the rule, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but is subject to the power of His mercy.