What Did Jesus Teach?
Jesus Christ is easily the most important figure that has ever appeared in the history of mankind. It makes no difference how you may regard him, you will have to concede that. This is true whether you choose to call him God or man; and, if man, whether you choose to consider him as the world's greatest Prophet and Teacher, or merely as a well-intentioned fanatic who came to grief, and failure, and ruin, after a short and stormy public career. However you regard him, the fact will remain that the life and death of Jesus, and the teachings attributed to him have influenced the course of human history more than those of any other man who has ever lived; more than Alexander, or Caesar, or Charlemagne, or Napoleon, or Washington. More people's lives are influenced by his doctrines, or at least by the doctrines attributed to him today, more books are written and read and bought concerning him, more speeches are made (call them sermons) concerning him; than concerning all the other names mentioned put together.
To have been the religious inspiration of the whole European race throughout the two millenniums during which that race has dominated and moulded, the destinies of the entire world, culturally and socially, as well as politically, and through the period in which the whole of the earth's surface was finally discovered and occupied, and in its broad outlines shaped by civilization; this alone entitles him to the premier position in world importance.
There can hardly, therefore, be a more important undertaking than to inquire into the question of what Jesus really did stand for.
What did Jesus teach? What did he really wish us to believe andto do? What were the objects that he really had at heart? And how far did he actually succeed in accomplishing these objects in his life and in his death? How far has the religion or movement called Christianity, as it has existed for the last nineteen centuries, really expressed or represented his ideas? How far does the Christianity of today present his message to the world? If he should come back now, what would he say of the self-styled Christian nations in general, and of the Christian churches in particular--of the Anglicans, the Baptists, the Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Quakers, the Salvationists, the Seventh Day Adventists, or the Unitarians; to cite them alphabetically? What "did" Jesus teach?
This is the question which I have set myself to answer in this book. I propose to show that the message which Jesus brought has a unique value because it is the Truth, and the only perfect statement of the Truth of the nature of God and of man, and of life, and of the world; and of the relationships which exist between them. And far more than this, we shall find that his teaching is not a mere abstract account of the universe, which would be of very little more than academic interest; but that if constitutes a practical method for the development of the soul and for the shaping of our lives and destinies into the things that we really wish them to be.
Jesus explains to us what the nature of God is and what our own nature is; tells us the meaning of life and of death; shows us why we make mistakes; why we yield to temptation; why we become sick, and impoverished, and old; and, most important of all, he tells us how all these evils may beovercome, and how we may bring health, happiness, and true prosperity into our lives, and into the lives of others, if they really wish for them, too.
The first thing that we have to realize is a fact of fundamental importance, because it means breaking away from all the ordinary prepossessions of orthodoxy. The plain fact is that Jesus taught no theology whatever. His teaching is entirely spiritual or metaphysical. Historical Christianity, unfortunately, has largely concerned itself with theological and doctrinal questions which, strange to say, have no part whatever in the Gospel teaching. It will startle many good people to learn that all the doctrines and theologies of the churches are human inventions built up by their authors out of their own mentalities, and foisted upon the Bible from the outside; but such is the case. "There is absolutely no system of theology of doctrine to be found in the Bible; it simply is not there." Worthy people who felt the need of some intellectual explanation of life, and also believed that the Bible was a revelation of God to man, drew the natural conclusion that the one must be with in the other; and then, more or less unconsciously, proceeded to manufacture the thing that they wished to find. They did not have the spiritual or metaphysical key. They were not upon what is called the Spiritual Basis, and consequently. they sought a purely intellectual or three-dimensional explanation of, life--and there can be no such explanation.
The actual explanation, of man's life lies in just the fact that he is essentially spiritual and eternal, and that this world, and the life that we know intellectually, is, so to speak, but a cross section of the fulltruth concerning him and a cross section of anything--from a machine to a horse--never can furnish even a partial explanation of the whole.
Glimpsing one tiny corner of the universe, and that with only half-opened eyes, and working from an exclusively anthropocentric and geocentric point of view, men built up absurd and very horrible fables about a limited and man-like God who conducted his universe very much as a rather ignorant and barbarous prince might conduct the affairs of a small Oriental kingdom.