But is not the Gospel really a world-denying creed? Certain very well-known passages are appealed to which do not seem to admit of any other interpretation: “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee”; “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off”; or the answer to the rich young man: “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven”; or the saying about those who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake; or the utterance: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” These and other passages seem to settle the matter, and to prove that the Gospel is altogether world-shunning and ascetic in its character.
But to this thesis I oppose three considerations which point in another direction. The first is derived from the way in which Jesus came forward, and from his manner and course of life; the second is based upon the impression which he made upon his disciples and was reflected in their own lives; the third springs from what we said about the fundamental features of Jesus’ message.
1. We find in our Gospels a remarkable utterance by Jesus, as follows: “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous and a wine-bibber.” A glutton, then, and a wine-bibber was he called in addition to the other abusive names which were given him. From this it clearly follows that in his whole demeanour and manner of life he made an impression quite different from that of the preacher of repentance on the banks of the Jordan. Towards the various fields in which asceticism had been traditionally practised, he must have taken up an attitude of indifference. We see him in the houses of the rich and of the poor, at meals, with women and amongst children; according to tradition, even at a wedding. He allows his feet to be washed and his head to be anointed. Further, he is glad to lodge with Mary and Martha; he does not ask them to leave their home. When he finds, to his joy, people with a firm faith, he leaves them in the calling and the position in which they were. We do not hear of his telling them to sell all and follow him. Apparently he thinks it possible, nay, fitting, that they should live unto their belief in the position in which God has placed them. His circle of disciples is not exhausted by the few whom he summoned directly to follow him. He finds God’s children everywhere; to discover them in their obscurity and to be allowed to speak to them some word of strength is his highest pleasure. But he did not organise his disciples into a band of monks, and he gave them no directions as to what they were to do and leave undone in the life of the day. No one who reads the Gospels with an unprejudiced mind, and does not pick his words, can fail to acknowledge that this free and active spirit does not appear to be bent under the yoke of asceticism, and that such words, therefore, a3 point in this direction must not be taken in a rigid sense and generalised, but must be regarded in a wider connexion and from a higher point of view.