To sum up: Ascetic in the primary meaning of the word the Gospel is not; for it is a message of trust in God, of humility, of forgiveness of sin, and of mercy. This is a height which nothing else can approach, and into this sphere nothing else can force its way. Further, worldly blessings are not of the devil but of God—” Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things; he arrays the lilies- of the field and feeds the fowls of the air.” Asceticism has no place in the Gospel at all; what it asks is that we should struggle against mammon, against care, against selfishness; what it demands and disengages is love; the love that serves and is self-sacrificing. This struggle and this love are the kind of asceticism which the Gospel means, and whoever encumbers Jesus’ message with any other kind fails to understand it. He fails to understand its grandeur and its’ importance; for there is something still more important than “giving one’s body to be burned and bestowing all one’s goods to feed the poor,” namely, self-denial and love.
(2) The Gospel and the poor, or the social question.
The bearings of the Gospel in regard to the social question form the second point which we proposed to consider. It is closely akin to the first. Here also we encounter different views prevalent at the present moment, or, to be more exact, two views, which are mutually opposed. We are told, on the one hand, that the Gospel was in the main a great social message to the poor, and that everything else in it is of secondary importance—mere contemporary wrapping, ancient tradition, or new forms supplied by the first generations of Christians, Jesus, they say, was a great social reformer, who aimed at relieving the lower classes from the wretched condition in which they were languishing; he set up a social programme which embraced the equality of all men, relief from economical distress, and deliverance from misery and oppression. It is only so, they add, that he can be understood, and therefore so he was; or perhaps—so he was, because it is only so that we can understand him. For years books and pamphlets have been written dealing with the Gospel in this sense; well-meant performances which aim at thus providing Jesus with a defence and a recommendation. But amongst those who take the Gospel to be an essentially social message there are also some who draw the opposite conclusion. By trying to prove that Jesus’ message was wholly directed to bringing about an economical reform, they declare the Gospel to be an entirely Utopian and useless programme; the view, they say, which Jesus took of the world was gentle, but also weak; coming himself from the lower and oppressed classes, he shared the suspicion entertained by small people of the great and the rich; he abhorred all profitable trade and business; he failed to understand the necessity of acquiring wealth; and accordingly he shaped his programme so as to disseminate pauperism in the “world”—to him the world was Palestine—and then, by way of contrast with the misery on earth, to build up a kingdom in heaven; a programme unrealisable in itself, and offensive to men of energy. This, or something like this, is the view held by another section of those who identify the Gospel with a social message.